LaHood set to step down as Department of Transportation Secretary

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
January 29, 2013 - LM Editorial

United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood said today that he would not serve a second term in his position, according to the DOT.

When President Barack Obama took office a little more than four years ago, he appointed LaHood as DOT Secretary. LaHood was the lone Republican member of the President’s Cabinet.

LaHood became the 16th Secretary of Transportation on January 23, 2009. He has helped develop and implement the Obama Administration’s priorities and policies regarding all transportation modes and infrastructure. Before becoming Secretary of Transportation, LaHood served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995-2009, representing the 18th Congressional District of Illinois, and also served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

No immediate word is forthcoming as to who will replace LaHood.

“I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation,” LaHood wrote in an e-mail to DOT employees. “It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.”

During his term as DOT Secretary, LaHood was very active on the transportation infrastructure and freight fronts. Among some of the significant infrastructure- and freight-related advances under his watch and cited in his e-mail were:
-the $48 billion allocated towards transportation funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009;
-more than $2.7 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants to 130 national transportation projects;
-significant investments into U.S. ports;
-FAA reauthorization; and
-securing funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) to help states build and repair roads, bridges, and transit systems

LaHood also championed the DOT’s Distracted Driving Initiative, focusing on reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. And under his watch DOT also rolled out the first of its kind national standards to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks and buses, as well as CSA, which stands for “Compliance, Safety, Accountability,” which was designed to weed out as many as 5 percent—of 150,000 of the nation’s 3 million or so long-haul truck drivers that the federal government believes are involved in an disproportionately high number of truck accidents and fatalities.

And last August he rolled out an effort focused on national domestic freight initiatives entitled the Freight Policy Council, whose objective is to focus on improving the condition and performance of the national freight network to better ensure the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global economy. The Freight Policy Council will develop a national intermodal plan for improving the efficiency of freight movement and also work with states to encourage development of a forward-looking state freight strategy.

“Our freight system is the lifeblood of the American economy, moving goods quickly and efficiently to benefit both businesses and consumers across the country,” said LaHood. “With the launch of the Freight Policy Council, we have an opportunity to make not only our freight system, but all modes of transportation, stronger and better connected.”

In 2011, LaHood was named Logistics Executive of the Year by the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) and Logistics Management (LM) magazine. The award is also known at the McCullough Award and is named after John T. McCullough, a former chief editor of Distribution magazine, a predecessor of LM.

When LM profiled LaHood for this honor in November 2011, LaHood hinted he would be leaving his post at the end of Obama’s first term, although reports in recent weeks suggested he might be staying on.

He explained to LM at the time that he had accomplished much of the President’s transport agenda. What’s more, LaHood is leaving a legacy of multimodalism and enthusiasm for greater spending on transport at the Department of Transportation.

“I think it’s fair to say that NITL members saw Secretary LaHood doing his best to navigate the shoals of our now hyper-partisan capitol on matters like basic infrastructure that have traditionally been seen as non-partisan,” says NITL President and CEO Bruce Carlton in the LM profile. “Being the lone Republican in the President’s cabinet, he’s had to use the skills he learned serving as a member of Congress—and his personal ties, no doubt—to try to bridge the now deep divisions.”

To be sure, not everyone was enamored with LaHood. Trucking officials, in particular, bristled at what they perceived to be regulatory overkill of their industry—everything ranging from more expensive equipment, to increased safety scrutiny, to a reduction in driver hours of service expected to take effect in July.

LaHood often cited the importance and relevance of freight transportation and logistics and supply chain professionals in “keeping the economy moving and keeping the country connected.”

And keeping these sectors strong and healthy, said LaHood, is among President Obama’s and the Department of Transportation’s highest priorities.

One area in which LaHood did not gain traction during his term was raising the federal gasoline tax, which has not increased from its current levels of 23.4 cents for diesel and 18.4 cents per.

When asked by LM in a previous interview if the tax would be raised, he explained that the President “has indicated on any number of occasions that he is opposed to raising the gas tax in a very, very lousy economy, with unemployment still [high],” adding that many people are hurting, and some cannot even afford to buy a gallon of gas, let alone have the gas tax raised. We are not recommending that, and we are not suggesting that.
That is not something the President is for, so we will not be making any proposals to raise the gas tax.”

Various transportation concerns praised LaHood for the work he has done as DOT Secretary.

The American Trucking Associations issued a statement saying that it “appreciates Secretary LaHood’s service to the country as Transportation Secretary, particularly in elevating the highway safety discussion on distracted driving. We wish him well in his future endeavors and look forward to working with his successor.”

And Association of American Railroads President and CEO Ed Hamberger said in a statement that Secretary LaHood brought passion, energy and a deep commitment to safety to his work at the Department of Transportation,” adding that “Under his leadership, railroads have never been safer. In addition, he understood the importance of freight rail to our nation’s economic vitality. We thank him for a job well done.”



About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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Article Topics

News · Freight · Infrastructure · DOT · All topics

About the Author

Jeff Berman, 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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