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'Mayor Pete' becomes Transportation Secretary Buttigieg

Feb. 2, 2021
The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Buttigieg as the youngest head of the DOT in history. The former South Bend, Ind., mayor takes over the department in advance of Biden’s big infrastructure plans.

Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as secretary of transportation on Feb. 2, taking over the U.S. Department of Transportation that oversees billions of dollars in highway construction funds and the trucking industry. Vice President Kamala Harris swore in the new secretary on Feb. 3 during a brief White House ceremony. 

The U.S. Senate voted, 86-13, to confirm the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., making Buttigieg the first openly gay confirmed cabinet secretary in U.S. history. The DOT, which includes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has more than 58,000 employees and an annual budget approaching $90 billion. At 39, Buttigieg also becomes the youngest DOT leader in the department's 54-year history.

“Safety is the foundation of the department’s mission, and it takes on new meaning amid this pandemic,”  Buttigieg said during his Jan. 21 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. “We must ensure all of our transportation systems — from aviation to public transit, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways, and pipelines — are managed safely during this critical period, as we work to defeat the virus.”

“We also have a lot of work to do to improve the infrastructure in this country, a mission that will not only keep more people safe but also grow our economy as we look to the future,” Buttigieg said during the hearing, which took place the day after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president. 

After being sworn in on Feb. 3, Buttigieg, who took on the nickname "Mayor Pete" during his campaign for president in 2019 and 2020, unveiled a new Twitter account: @SecretaryPete.

Along with receiving bipartisan support in committee and on the Senate floor, the new secretary has been getting hopeful buzz around the trucking industry. 

"My understanding is he’s a very intelligent guy and we are looking forward to working with him,” David Heller, the Truckload Carrier Associations’ vice president of government affairs, told FleetOwner after the confirmation hearing. “He's open to conversations and, without a doubt, always wants to learn more. If there's a topic that he doesn't know, he's very inquisitive, from what I understand, and is willing to engage in the conversation. So I think those are all good things.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the outgoing chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the DOT, led the bipartisan praise for the new secretary during that Jan. 21 confirmation hearing. He touted Buttigieg’s education — he’s a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University — and military service — as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve who served in Afganistan. 

“Mayor Buttigieg has impressive credentials, which demonstrate his intellect and commitment to serving our nation,” Wicker said. “As a former local elected official, he will bring a valuable perspective to the Department of Transportation regarding the transportation infrastructure needs and challenges of towns and cities throughout our country.”

Those small, Midwestern city roots are seen as a positive in taking over the DOT, according to Chris Spear, the president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. 

“Having served as the mayor of a city sitting at the crossroads of America, Mr. Buttigieg has had an up-close and personal look at how our infrastructure problems are impacting Americans — and how important it is to solve them,” Spear said on Jan. 21. “As he conveyed throughout his testimony today, greater federal investment in infrastructure is critical to enhancing transportation safety and growing our ailing economy. That work begins with securing immediate funding to address our short-term needs over the next decade while we develop new, technology-driven solutions over the long-term, and ATA stands ready to assist the Biden Administration in advancing a robust highway funding bill across the finish line.” 

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said the importance of infrastructure in “rural America is as important as it is anywhere in the country. Making sure that rural America has access to the dollars — even though we don’t have as many people per square mile — is critically important.”

"We're living off of the infrastructure investment of my parents and grandparents," Tester added later during the confirmation hearing. "And quite frankly, that's unacceptable. We owe more toward kids than that and we shouldn't be doing it on borrowed money — we should be doing it, we should be paying for it." 

The Biden Administration promised a large infrastructure plan for the nation expected to be unveiled by the spring. And part of that plan will deal with climate change — in contrast to how climate ramifications were not prioritized during the Trump Administration.

Buttigieg said that the DOT has a significant role in slowing the climate crisis “before it’s too late.” Among his plans are to enforce strong fuel economy standards and expand electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which Biden wants to increase by building 500,000 charging stations across the U.S. 

Before the confirmation, Buttigieg made commitments to senators to review federal highway safety programs, including how electronic logging device (ELD) rules affect agriculture haulers, particularly those who haul livestock. 

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) raised that point during the hearing. “That is something that I hope you and I can work on together for the ag industry — the livestock industry — make sure that they have the needed flexibility in their hours of service.”

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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