Nominees for senior posts across federal transportation agencies have the potential to be included in an end-of-year measure that Senate leaders plan to formalize before the congressional session comes to a close.
On Dec. 18, the chamber’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told reporters on Capitol Hill he anticipates crafting a package that would consist of several nominees with Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) before adjourning in less than two weeks.
“As is customary at the end of a session or before a recess, the Democratic leader and I will be talking about nominations,” McConnell explained. “We have a lot of them stacked up. And we’ll be talking about trying to put together some kind of package on both executive branch nominations and judicial nominations.”
McConnell did not specify which transportation nominees, if any, would be included in such a package, nor how soon he might unveil it after meeting with Schumer.
The current post-midterm elections lame-duck session is expected to adjourn in less than two weeks. The 116th Congress is scheduled to gavel in on Jan. 3.
Two years into President Donald Trump’s presidency, his administration has yet to fill key senior posts across transportation agencies. The nominees for the top jobs at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Transit Administration are among those awaiting a Senate vote. If the transportation nominees are not considered prior to the conclusion of this congressional session, Trump would need to renominate his candidates.
Among those awaiting a Senate vote is Heidi King to become NHTSA administrator. She currently serves as the agency’s deputy administrator, and her nomination was reported out of the Commerce Committee in June on a party-line vote. Her federal government experience consists of serving as a regulatory policy analyst at the Office of Management and Budget. She also was chief economist on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Prior to her government experience, she worked for Pfizer Inc. and General Electric, according to background she provided the Commerce Committee.
Thelma Drake is Trump’s choice to lead the FTA. A former congresswoman, she oversaw transportation programs while working for the Virginia state government. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Virginia Railway Express are agencies in her background dossier.
In April, she told the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that, if confirmed, her top three priorities would be: “the safety of our transit systems and the traveling public … infrastructure support and investment … preparing for the future through innovation.” The panel advanced her nomination in May.
Another nominee is Diana Furchtgott-Roth, tapped to become assistant secretary of transportation for research and technology. The former chief economist at the Department of Labor, she also was chief of staff of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, deputy executive director of the Domestic Policy Council and junior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers, the White House noted in her background.
Other nominees awaiting votes in the upper chamber are Martin Oberman, Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz for posts on the Surface Transportation Board, and Leon Westmoreland, Joseph Ryan Gruters and Rick Dearborn, to be added to Amtrak’s board of directors.