Chao is confirmed by Senate as next DOT Secretary

In perhaps the most quiet of all President Trump’s Cabinet picks, Elaine Chao overwhelmingly was voted in by the Senate as the next United States Department of Transportation Secretary by a 93-6 margin.

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In perhaps the most quiet of all President Trump’s Cabinet picks, Elaine Chao overwhelmingly was voted in by the Senate as the next United States Department of Transportation Secretary by a 93-6 margin.

This vote is notable in that it is largely devoid of much of the political wrangling attention some of the other Cabinet picks have received to date. What’s more, it gives Chao ample time to hit the ground running at a time when the nation’s transportation system, specifically as it relates to transportation infrastructure needs, to be blunt, all of the help it can get.

How? Why? Well, not too long ago, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the United States a “D” grade on infrastructure, adding that there will be a $1.44 trillion infrastructure funding gap over the next decade. This is noteworthy, especially in today’s deeply divided political climate, considering there are no Republican-only roads or Democrat-only bridges. Basically, this is an “all-in” effort regardless of your political leanings.

As for how things go for Secretary Chao depends on many things, one being the White House’s reply to the recently introduced $1 trillion plan rolled out by Senate Democrats last week.

On the campaign trail and after the election, President Trump has talked often about the need to rebuild American infrastructure in somewhat broad generalities. What is known is that Trump has described his vision as a “trillion-dollar rebuilding plan,” which would be “one of the biggest projects this country has ever undertaken, which he said would be funded through low interest rates and infrastructure bonds.

One of the things Trump made clear in his acceptance speech was that a national commitment to infrastructure cannot be ignored or overlooked.

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

A fully-detailed plan (that hopefully includes how it will be funded and financially maintained) will be issued soon enough to be sure, but in the interim, it appears many high-profile transportation stakeholders have already welcomed Secretary Chao with open arms, including:

  • AAR President and CEO Ed Hamberger: "With her previous experience as DOT deputy secretary, Ms. Chao has a deep appreciation of critical surface transportation issues. This includes the important role the rail industry plays in this country and the working relationship it has with DOT agencies that oversee the industry, so, together, we can continue to move America's commerce safely and efficiently;
  • AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright: "We congratulate Elaine Chao on her confirmation as U.S. Transportation Secretary and stand ready to work with USDOT to continue efforts to rebuild and modernize America’s aging transportation infrastructure. In her confirmation testimony, Secretary Chao said she believes the Trump administration will support more federal funding for infrastructure as well as private financing. AASHTO agrees that a balanced approach to transportation investment will be required to fully support America’s transportation system into the future,”; and
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster: I congratulate Elaine Chao on her confirmation as the next Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation.  I look forward to getting to work with her, the new administration, and my colleagues in Congress on the many issues before the Committee this year, including critical FAA reforms and smart, responsible investments in our Nation’s infrastructure network.  We have a tremendous opportunity to improve our transportation systems, reduce regulatory burdens, encourage innovation and private-public partnerships, strengthen our competitiveness, and build a 21st century infrastructure for America.

At her recent Senate confirmation hearing, Chao was clear and direct in what needs to be addressed in regards to the nation’s myriad transportation travails.

She touched upon how the DOT has a “rare opportunity to shape the transformation of our critical infrastructure,” explaining how safety remains the primary objective and that railroads, automobile manufacturers, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, pipeline operators, transit agencies and hazardous materials shippers need to deploy comprehensive approaches to safety.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Chao’s comments centered around unleashing the potential for private investment into U.S. infrastructure.

“As we work together to develop the details of President Trump’s infrastructure plan, it is important to note the significant difference between traditional program funding and other innovative financing tools, such as public-private partnerships,” she said. “In order to take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds, and endowments can invest, these partnerships must be incentivized with a bold new vision. We look forward to working with you to explore all the options, and to create a mix of practical solutions—both public and private-- that provide the greatest cost-benefit to the public.”

The transportation ball is now in Secretary Chao’s hands. Let’s hope she gets many first downs on the way to helping lead the U.S. out of its infrastructure abyss. 

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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