Photo: Andrew Cline |
Pete Buttigieg

Biden nominates Buttigieg for transportation secretary

Dec. 15, 2020
The former South Bend mayor and one-time Democratic rival of President-elect Biden would oversee the vast Department of Transportation, which includes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

President-elect Joe Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg for transportation secretary. The former South Bend, Ind., mayor and one-time Democratic presidential candidate would oversee the vast Department of Transportation (DOT), including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

If confirmed by the Senate, Buttigieg, 38, would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary and take over the DOT, which has an $87 billion budget, more than 50,000 employees, and more than a dozen administrations that regulate the trucking industry, the nation’s highway system, airspace, and more.

“I got to know Pete on the campaign trail,” Biden said during a Dec. 16 speech announcing the nomination. “One of the smartest people you will ever meet. And one of the most humble. Mayor from the heartland, a management expert, and a policy wonk with a big heart.”

Biden has laid out ambitious plans for America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, including repairing bridges and roads and implementing green technologies that cut down on carbon emissions.

“At its best, transportation makes the American Dream possible, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs,” Buttigieg said after accepting the nomination. “At its worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial and economic inequality, dividing or isolating neighborhoods, undermining government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive.”

On the DOT's trucking side, the FMCSA has only had one official administrator during President Donald Trump’s term in office. Since Raymond Martinez stepped down as the head of the FMCSA in 2019, two deputy administrators have stepped in as acting leaders of the administration that oversees the trucking industry. James “Wiley” Deck is the latest to take up that task. Martinez wasn’t confirmed as head of the FMCSA until more than a year into Trump’s term. He stayed in the job for 20 months. 

Todd Spencer, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association president, expressed interest in the FMCSA post in a November letter to the Biden transition team.

With more than 500,000 interstate carriers and 4.7 million commercial driver's license (CDL) holders across the nation, the FMCSA and its 1,100 employees have overseen significant changes for drivers and carriers over the past four years. During the Trump Administration, the FMCSA finalized the implementation of electronic logging devices (ELD), enacted new hours-of-service regulations, and saw the trucking industry move to the front of national consciousness during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The incoming Biden Administration has laid out some basic ideas of what it wants to do with transportation the next four years, including modernizing infrastructure, replacing roads and bridges, and keeping a focus on clean energy. “We’ve seen the need for a more resilient economy for the long-term, and that means investing in a modern, sustainable infrastructure and sustainable engines of growth — from roads and bridges to energy grids and schools, to universal broadband,” his transition team wrote. “Biden has a plan to meet the climate crisis, build a clean energy economy, address environmental injustice, and create millions of good-paying union jobs.”

Fighting climate change is among the top priorities for the Democrat’s administration. That will significantly impact the trucking industry as Biden is pushing for the U.S. to chart a path toward net-zero emissions by 2050. Part of the plan is to encourage more Americans to travel by mass transit, opening up the roads for freight. Among Biden’s goals is making federal investments in every American city with at least 100,000 residents to provide high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options — ranging from light rail networks to improving current transit and bus lines. 

South Bend, where Buttigieg served as mayor for eight years, has just more than 100,000 residents and a small local transportation system with a fleet of 60 city buses. Some transportation experts have questioned Buttigieg’s lack of experience in running the large federal department, according to The Washington Post

Congress has failed to pass comprehensive infrastructure legislation during the Trump years. Biden said he would repeal some of the Trump tax cuts passed when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress — to pay for infrastructure investments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, has said that repealing the tax cuts is a “non-starter” for his caucus. McConnell’s control of the Senate will come down to two Senate race run-offs in Georgia held in early January.

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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