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April 24, 2017 2:45 AM, EDT

Senate to Consider Transportation Nominees to Fill Senior Positions Before Memorial Day

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

This story appears in the April 24 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Senate is likely to vote on President Donald Trump’s picks for senior posts at the U.S. Department of Transportation this spring, the chamber’s Republican leaders indicated this month.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he expects to schedule floor votes on top-level nominees to fill senior posts across departments. This would include the nomination of Jeffrey Rosen to be deputy secretary of transportation, which the chamber is expected to vote on prior to the next congressional recess next month, senior GOP aides confirmed to Transport Topics last week.

If confirmed, Rosen would serve under Secretary Elaine Chao, managing policy implementation and funding directives for an administration aiming to enhance private-sector funding for infrastructure projects and privatize air traffic control systems nationwide. Congress’ next recess will be the Memorial Day holiday.

The Senate Commerce Committee on April 5 approved Rosen’s nomination 15-12, in a party-line vote. Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) called on colleagues to support Rosen’s nomination, emphasizing a need to fill vacancies at the department.

“I just don’t think there is anything gained by simply not filling these positions with somebody who is a very capable public servant with a long record,” Thune said.

Committee Democrats who opposed Rosen noted discontent with the White House’s fiscal 2018 budget blueprint that would eliminate funding for an Obama-era infrastructure grants program and reduce funds for transit systems.

“We know there are ways to pay for infrastructure improvement. A number of us on both sides of the aisle have talked about vehicles, and tools, and mechanisms that can be used. And now is the time for action. We do need to put our money where our mouth is,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (R-Conn.).

“When I have a nominee for an office who can’t even commit to programs that have bipartisan appeal like New Starts [transit grants], bipartisan support from this Congress, from this committee, it’s just simply outrageous to me,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) added.

Rosen was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. Before that, he was general counsel at DOT and the Office of Management and Budget during President George W. Bush’s administration. He has been a donor to Republican presidential candidates, such as Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Also, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plans to schedule a time to hear from Derek Kan, nominee for undersecretary of transportation for policy. The general manager of the California- based Lyft Inc. ride-sharing firm was tapped by Trump to oversee policy regulations at DOT. The committee has yet to schedule Kan’s hearing.

If confirmed, he would oversee executive and congressional directives for the secretary. A member of Amtrak’s board of directors, Kan was a management consultant at Bain & Co. Before that, he was a policy adviser to McConnell and the chief economist for the Senate Republican Policy Committee. McConnell is married to Chao.

Kan earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The administration has yet to announce its choice for an administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency with jurisdiction over trucking policy. White House and agency officials did not respond to requests for comment on when an administrator would be announced. FMCSA’s Daphne Jefferson leads the agency in an acting capacity.