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March 16, 2015 2:00 AM, EDT

Senator Calls on White House to Select FMCSA Nominee

Office of Sen. John Thune
By Eugene Mulero, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 16 print edition of Transport Topics.

WASHINGTON — Less than a week before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration acting chief’s tenure is scheduled to end, the chairman of the Senate panel that oversees the agency has called on the White House to nominate a permanent administrator.

Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), whose panel will lead the confirmation process, said he is troubled that he has yet to learn who will be nominated for FMCSA’s top job.

“We’re interested in who the administration will submit. But I hope that they start acting to get some of these critical positions filled. We got an awful lot of them that are open right now,” Thune told Transport Topics on March 10.

Scott Darling, the agency’s acting administrator, said his tenure will come to an end March 23. Thus far, neither Darling nor administration officials have shared details about a successor. It is possible Darling could be nominated to fill the post permanently or return to the role of general counsel.

Darling has kept a relatively low profile since he was tapped for the acting post in August. After an appearance before a congressional panel this month, a key lawmaker said she was not impressed.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, said she was “surprised and disappointed” by his responses to basic policy positions.

“When I asked him whether or not the FMCSA was looking at any specific changes to its programs, as noted in his testimony and suggested by the [Government Accountability Office], he could not name a single reform that the agency is considering,” Fischer wrote in a March 10 editorial in the Plattsmouth Journal, a Nebraska publication.

Darling had been the agency’s general counsel before he was picked to succeed outgoing Administrator Anne Ferro. In an interview with TT last year, Darling said his focus was to lead the implementation of key safety priorities, such as the issuance of a final rule on electronic logging devices and the issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking on motor carrier safety fitness determination. He also has defended the agency’s hours-of-service regulations, parts of which Congress pushed to have suspended through Sept. 30.

Inside the agency, steps have been taken to restructure its leadership ranks. In February, Daphne Jefferson was named deputy administrator, succeeding Bill Bronrott, according to a letter Darling sent to staff that was obtained by TT.

Jefferson most recently was the department’s deputy assistant secretary for administration. She also served as counselor to the chief of staff. From 2011 to 2013, she was the agency’s associate administrator for administration, as well as acting chief financial officer.

She took over for Bronrott, whose last day was Feb. 6, according to the letter. Darling said Jefferson “brings a range and depth of federal executive experience and leadership, along with integrity, intelligence, wisdom and professionalism, to the workplace.”