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January 21, 2021 11:30 AM, EST

Buttigieg Pledges to Make Transportation Systems COVID-Safe

Pete Buttigieg told the Senate in his confirmation hearing that he would look to ensure transportation systems were managed safely.Pete Buttigieg told the Senate in his confirmation hearing that he would look to ensure transportation systems were managed safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg News)

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President Joe Biden’s pick to run the Department of Transportation says he will focus on preventing the spread of COVID-19 on the nation’s transportation systems if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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

The transportation secretary-designate, Buttigieg, 38, a military veteran and Harvard University graduate, was mayor of South Bend, Ind., for two terms, leaving office last January. A former candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Buttigieg narrowly won the Iowa caucuses but endorsed Biden after dropping out of the race.

RELATED: Incoming Administration 'Looking to the Future,' Buttigieg Says

The transportation secretary oversees a budget of almost $90 billion, the majority of which pays for building roads, bridges and other highway infrastructure. The DOT also manages multiple agencies that regulate aviation, railroads, trucking and pipeline safety.

The position could be pivotal in any attempts by Biden to expand infrastructure spending, as some Democrats are seeking.

“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. “Now is the time, and we have a real chance to deliver for the American people.”

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The department could play a significant role in the coronavirus pandemic. The White House has announced that Biden will push to require people to wear masks in airports and on planes as well as enforce quarantines for people who arrive in the U.S. from other countries. Such a mandate would likely have to be enacted by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is overseen by the transportation department.

In an executive order Biden will issue Jan. 21, the new president will codify an action by former President Donald Trump on Jan. 12 to require a negative COVID-19 test before flying to the U.S. from other nations, according to a Biden administration fact sheet.

In addition, the Department of Transportation under Buttigieg could help struggling airlines and transit systems recover from dramatic drops in passengers.

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