May 11, 2022 10:28 AM, EDT

Senate Confirms Maritime Administration Chief

Capitol Agenda by Eugene Mulero

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Retired Rear Admiral Ann Phillips will become the next administrator of the Maritime Administration after her confirmation by the U.S. Senate on May 10.

By a 75-22 vote, senators approved the nominee to lead the agency at a time when bottlenecks across parts of the maritime system are said to be contributing to slowdowns along supply chains.

During the confirmation process, the nominee told the Commerce Committee that if confirmed she would “continue to strengthen the resilience of our supply chains and implement a historic investment in our maritime infrastructure.”

Ann Phillips


As administrator, she said her priorities would consist of “promoting a strong U.S. Merchant Marine and continuing the recapitalization of the strategic sealift fleet, and continuing support for a competitive, safe and modern maritime industry that is capable of meeting strategic sealift support requirements and prepared to succeed in a contested environment.”

President Joe Biden’s transportation nominees awaiting consideration before the Senate include Steven Cliff to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Victoria Wassmer to become chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation and Christopher Coes to be an assistant secretary of Transportation.

The Commerce Committee, with jurisdictional authority over trucking policy, has yet to schedule a hearing on the nomination of Robin Hutcheson to become the next administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Sens. Thune, Peters Urge DOT to Create AV Road Map

Two of the Senate’s key proponents of autonomous vehicles pressed the nation’s top transportation officer on the need for adopting a national framework for the technology.

During a hearing of the Commerce Committee last week, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) insisted a federal regulatory road map for AVs would be beneficial for myriad industries as well as motorists.

Benefits associated with AVs would include improving vehicle-to-vehicle safety along highways and freight connectivity. The senators have been collaborating on legislation designed to establish such a regulatory framework. A requisite number of their colleagues, however, have not backed their legislation on the chamber floor.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)


“As you know, it’s something I’ve worked over the past several years to try and address in a bipartisan fashion and that is to enact automated vehicles legislation, which I do believe is the key to ensuring that AVs are tested and deployed under a safe and consistent regulatory framework,” Thune told Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on May 4.

“And I remain committed to advancing this critical emerging technology. But in the absence of legislation, I believe it’s essential for the department to establish a framework for the testing and deployment of AVs,” Thune added. “Measures such as granting exemption petitions or updating relevant regulations are crucial to modernizing vehicle safety standards and gathering relevant safety data to ensure that the U.S. maintains its leadership in this important technology.”

Gary Peters


Peters, the author of a recent letter to the secretary pressing for federal guidelines, echoed Thune’s viewpoint at the hearing. The letter was signed by several of his colleagues on the transportation committees.

“I do want to have a conversation about autonomous vehicles, and the fact of the matter is that one day I think we all know that cars will be both electric and they will be autonomous, as well,” Peters told the secretary.

Peters continued, “History has taught us that technological change is inevitable. And while that has produced benefits for society, there’s plenty of examples of workers unfortunately getting left behind as this technology moves forward. So I believe we can seize the moment to mold a new pattern because good jobs and innovation in my mind do not have to be and are not mutually exclusive.”

In his letter to the secretary, Peters and his colleagues pointed to their ongoing legislative efforts and the technology’s benefits, such as addressing driver error and expanding mobility options for senior citizens and people with disabilities.



On the House side, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), recently reintroduced his Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution, or SELF DRIVE, Act. The bill, similar to the measure being offered by Thune and Peters, would establish a framework on autonomous vehicles.

Buttigieg pointed to the administration’s ongoing efforts on AVs and told the senators he recognized the technology’s potential benefits.

“We very much agree. And like you, are interested in making sure that this transition, whether we’re talking about electric or automated, is principally made in America, that it creates more opportunity,” the secretary told Peters. “And it can, but we need to provide the right kind of policy framework.”

He added: “We’re doing everything we can with existing authorities to make sure that it unfolds in a way that is safe, that builds the confidence of Americans in these technologies, and at the same time, provides the flexibility for the kinds of research, development and testing that are needed.”

Buttigieg Testimony Senate Commerce Committee May 3 by Transport Topics on Scribd

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

May 10, 10 a.m.: The Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee meets for a budget hearing.

Pete Buttigieg


May 10, 1 p.m.: The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee meets for a budget hearing. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to testify.

May 11, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets for an oversight hearing on the Council on Environmental Quality.

May 11, 2 p.m.: The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee meets for a budget hearing.

May 12, 9:30 a.m.: The House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee meets for a budget hearing. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is scheduled to testify.

May 12, 10 a.m.: House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee meets for a hearing on the Surface Transportation Board reauthorization.

Freight Corridor

Maintaining a focus on all things environment.

Legislative Docket

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee easily approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. The bill is meant to increase funding for ports and commercial corridors amid supply chain bottlenecks.

Sen. Tom Carper

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. (C-SPAN)

“The importance of investing in and revitalizing our water infrastructure cannot be understated. From the waterways that deliver goods to the Port of Wilmington to the beaches protecting our coastal communities, our water resources are core to our way of life,” Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said May 4.

“This year’s reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act would authorize the modification of existing and construction of new, critical Army Corps projects in Delaware and throughout the country — projects that will significantly improve quality of life, create good-paying jobs and protect communities against the threats of climate change.”


Norman Mineta


President Joe Biden on May 6 signed into law legislation naming the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters after former secretaries Norm Mineta and William T. Coleman, Jr.

“Norm will always be remembered for the many barriers he broke,” Biden said of Mineta’s passing May 3. “He was the first Asian American to serve as mayor of a major city, his beloved hometown of San Jose, as well as the first Asian American to serve in the Cabinet. Over two decades in the House of Representatives, Norm was a force of purpose and progress.”

Coleman was the first African American to run the department.

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Secretary Pete goes after that local audience.

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A moment of Jerseyana

The Last Word

We aren’t in the entertainment business; we are in the get-things-done business.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) on May 3

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.)

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session and add updates throughout the week. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info:


GOP’s Graves Pursues Transportation Oversight for Infrastructure Law

During a spring agenda in which Democrats seek to deliver on supply chain and gas tax measures, in addition to confirming officials for the Biden administration, the top Republican on the U.S. House transportation panel is dedicating resources to conduct oversight.

The enactment of a $1 trillion infrastructure policy law in November, which promises to deliver about $500 billion for highway-centric projects, is being carefully tracked by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), among others. The law is formally known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

Graves’ focus on the law’s implementation, for which he has sought meetings with top White House officials, serves as a reminder that oversight of massive policy directives is an ongoing practice. Insisting state agencies be afforded decision-making flexibility with regards to the law, a Federal Highway Administration memorandum issued in December has turned into a focal point for Graves’ caucus.

Rep. Sam Graves

“Rural and suburban areas have real concerns and needs for adding additional lanes to existing roads to relieve congestion and accommodate the urban sprawl into their communities," says Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). (Congressman Sam Graves via YouTube)

“Republicans raised this issue with [White House infrastructure law coordinator] Mitch Landrieu when he briefed committee leaders, but we are still very concerned about the ongoing impacts of this agency guidance, how states are interpreting it and the fact that it is in conflict with the letter of the law in IIJA.”

The FHWA memo’s guidance has been interpreted to suggest that state agencies repair existing projects, as opposed to proceed with new ones. For that reason, House Republicans have been calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation leadership to rescind the memo.

House T&I Estimates for Fiscal 2023 Budget by Transport Topics on Scribd

“Rural and suburban areas have real concerns and needs for adding additional lanes to existing roads to relieve congestion and accommodate the urban sprawl into their communities, but there is still confusion out there over this memo and some states are interpreting it differently than others,” Graves recently told Transport Topics.

The Republicans, Graves said, have not heard directly from the transportation secretary about their request that the memo be rescinded.

“Instead of addressing this confusion in the best way possible, by rescinding the December memo, as Republicans have requested, FHWA just doubled down on it when the agency announced its carbon reduction guidance April 21 and reiterated its priorities from the December memo,” he observed.

Rep. Peter DeFazio


In the meantime, committee Republicans plan to continue to host policy roundtables featuring stakeholders. Topics of interest include supply chain, mask mandates and domestic energy. As defeat continues to look like a possibility for House Democrats in the November midterms, Graves is emerging as a likely successor for Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to fill the role of transportation committee chairman.

“We are closely watching how the Biden administration is implementing IIJA, and this type of oversight is going to be a priority for us in the coming years. Not only is such a large funding measure subject to potential waste, fraud and abuse, but the inflation, supply chain and American energy crises have significant implications for this law and every single infrastructure dollar,” Graves said.

“Given this administration’s priorities so far, Republicans also want to make sure this money is distributed equitably and that rural and suburban communities are not left behind,” he added. “That’s why we need to hear from administration officials: more directly and more regularly. And that’s why Republicans have been and will continue to hold these roundtables, to focus on these issues and ensure as much oversight as possible.”

Per the panel’s legislative agenda, Graves indicated Republicans will seek bipartisanship on comprehensive water policy legislation. Democrats on the committee intend to consider the water bill in the coming weeks.

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

May 3, 10 a.m.: The Senate Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee meets for a hearing on broadband.

May 3, 10 a.m.: The Senate Commerce Committee meets with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Watch the hearing here.  

May 4, 10 a.m.: The Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee meets for a budget hearing.

May 4, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considers water infrastructure policy legislation.

May 4, 2:30 p.m.: The Senate Indian Affairs Committee meets for a hearing titled, “Setting New Foundations: Implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for Native Communities.”

Freight Corridor

Similar to politics, plenty of matters are local in nature.

Legislative Docket

Gary Peters


Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the surface transportation subcommittee, recently sought an update from federal officials on a framework for autonomous vehicles. He was joined by colleagues in detailing potential benefits from the emerging technology. Peters and others introduced a bill to establish a national regulatory framework for AVs.

In the recent letter to Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the lawmakers wrote: “We respectfully request your insights regarding the following questions about how USDOT plans to address autonomous vehicles.”

They continued, “What specific actions is USDOT considering in the near term regarding autonomous vehicles? What existing statutory authorities will USDOT consider using to maintain the nation’s leadership in developing and manufacturing autonomous vehicles here in the United States?”


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on April 28 held an event to raise awareness about sexual assault prevention. In coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor, the agency hosted a roundtable with stakeholders from the trucking industry to outline ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual assault and sexual harassment from the industry.


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Transportation mogul gobbles twitterverse.

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First points of entry.

The Last Word

President Biden is leading the largest-ever federal investment in modernizing our country’s ports.

Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley on April 19

Lucinda Lessley

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session and add updates throughout the week. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info:


Congress Finalizing Ports Supply Chain Bill, Cantwell Says

Legislation designed to enhance the movement of freight at ports is part of Congress’ agenda over the coming weeks, a key negotiator of the bill told reporters April 26.

During Senate Democrats’ weekly press conference, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) emphasized that fellow lawmakers were meeting to arrive at a final version of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. Versions of the bill recently advanced in the House and in the Senate.

“We’re working on issues that affect everyday consumers on price. As you know, we passed out of the Senate a shipping bill that we’re working with the House to resolve the differences on,” Cantwell said. “This is very important because shipping costs accelerated greatly and have raised costs on average Americans.

Sen. Maria Cantwell

"Shipping costs accelerated greatly and have raised costs on average Americans," Sen Maria Cantwell says. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)

The Ocean Shipping Reform Act, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), targets the Federal Maritime Commission by requiring carriers to issue certain reports to the commission each quarter. The bill, which aims to respond to ongoing supply chain pressures, also would pave the way for the registration of shipping exchanges.

Proponents of the legislation have suggested its provisions could be included in a larger supply chain-centric package.
Freight stakeholders representing ports, commodities and the commercial transportation industry have endorsed the measure.

Buttigieg to Defend FY23 Budget Request April 28

The country’s top transportation officer is scheduled to visit Capitol Hill this week to defend President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget request for infrastructure projects, freight safety initiatives, construction grants and increases for climate change programs.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s hearing before the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee will take place April 28. Congress is resuming its legislative agenda after the Easter recess.

For the U.S. Department of Transportation, the White House is calling on congressional funding leaders to approve $142 billion for fiscal 2023. The request includes $367.5 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety operations and programs, and $506.1 million for the agency’s safety grants division.

President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

President Joe Biden looks on as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg delivers remarks during a recent White House event. Buttigieg is requesting $142 billion for his department in the fiscal 2023 budget. (Ting Shen/Bloomberg News)

For other programs, the budget request calls for $23.6 billion for aviation modernization, $4.45 billion for major transit projects, $3 billion for safety programs at the Federal Highway Administration, $1.5 billion for infrastructure construction grants and $230 million for port projects considered essential for supply chain connectivity.

“The fiscal year 2023 budget request prioritizes safety as the foundation of everything we do, while also helping the economy recover and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, responding to the threat of climate change, implementing [bipartisan infrastructure law] and ensuring transportation is an engine for equity,” according to background materials the department provided. “Together, these investments and their underlying policies will provide the resources needed to strengthen the safety focus to reduce fatalities on our nation’s roads and help meet the ambitious goals identified in the department’s national roadway safety strategy.”

Buttigieg said last month, “From roads, tunnels and bridges, to airport and port improvements, electric vehicle chargers, safe bike lanes and more, we are building a first-rate transportation system for all Americans.”

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg News)

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also is making her way to the Hill this week. She is scheduled to address the administration’s response to supply chain bottlenecks during a Commerce Committee hearing April 27.

The secretaries’ testimonies will occur amid pushback from congressional Republicans on the transportation panels. The senior GOP members have ramped up their critique of the fiscal 2023 budget request as well as Biden administration directives targeting infrastructure projects.

Regarding the recent announcement of the Federal Highway Administration’s carbon reduction program, Republican Reps. Sam Graves of Missouri and Rodney Davis of Illinois said: “The Biden administration doubled down on discouraging states from building new roads they may need, despite this policy being in direct conflict with what Congress intended in the recent infrastructure law.” Graves is the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Davis is the ranking member on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee.

GOP Letter to CEQ by Transport Topics on Scribd

The comprehensive carbon reduction program established by the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is meant to assist state departments of transportation with emissions mitigation efforts.

Regarding a move by the administration to enhance permitting guidance anchored in the National Environmental Policy Act, Graves said: “This rule to reimpose outdated NEPA regulations couldn’t come at a worse time. The nation continues to deal with various crises the president’s policies have exacerbated, from inflation, to the supply chain, to American energy independence.”

Added Graves: “Now the administration is moving backwards on much needed, common-sense NEPA reforms, which will only delay important projects, drive up costs and further erode any value from the infrastructure law.”

The Week Ahead (all times Eastern)

April 26-27: The Financial Times hosts its “Future Cities Americas” summit.

Rep. Patrick McHenry


April 27, 9 a.m.: Punchbowl News interviews Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.).

April 27, 9:30 a.m.: Senate Commerce Committee meets with Secretary Gina Raimondo.

April 27, 2 p.m.: The House Highways and Transit Subcommittee examines transportation workforce programs.

April 27, 2:30 p.m.: The House Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee meets for a hearing on the fiscal 2023 budget request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.

April 28, 10 a.m.: The House Science, Space and Technology Committee meets for a hearing on climate change.

April 28, 10:30 a.m.: A Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meets with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Freight Corridor

The view from the Chamber.

Legislative Docket

Rep. Bobby Scott


The House Education and Labor Committee on April 5 gave partisan backing to an update of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The bill would reauthorize WIOA programs for six years. It also would fund workforce development systems to ensure prospective employees gain access to long-term careers.

“Underinvesting in workforce development allows other economies to outcompete us,” committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said. “While other developed countries spend half to 1% of their gross domestic product on workforce development, the United States only spends one-tenth of 1%. Our nation’s economy has a stake in how well we do our job here today.”


The nomination of Robin Hutcheson to be the next administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is on the Commerce Committee’s radar. Biden nominated Hutcheson to become administrator of the trucking regulatory agency April 6. A former deputy assistant secretary for safety policy for USDOT, she serves as FMCSA acting administrator.

If Hutcheson’s hearing gains approval from a majority of members on the panel, her nomination advances to the Senate floor for consideration. “We congratulate Deputy Administrator Hutcheson on her nomination to head FMCSA, and we support her swift confirmation by the Senate,” American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said after the White House announced her nomination.

Favorite Video

Secretary Pete goes for The View treatment.

Favorite Tweet

And, about that commute …

The Last Word

President Biden should be unleashing the untapped potential of America’s natural resources to lower gas prices and make us safer.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) on April 6

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session and add updates throughout the week. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: