It’s January 23, 2017 & Here Is What Your Trump Administration Aviation Team Looks Like & What It Can/May Do

Trump Administration Aviation Team
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The Trump Administration Aviation Team

Executing Aviation Policy

This is a photograph of President Trump signing the letters formally transmitting his nominations to the Senate, including his request for a new Secretary of Transportation.

I. While that was happening, here is what was happening in the positions who execute the aviation policy of an Administration:

1.  The Department of Transportation

a.  A Farewell Message from Secretary Anthony Foxx to Employees

Today, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sent the following message to all USDOT employees:

Today marks my last day of service as Secretary of the Department of Transportation. This is a Department steeped in a rich history of excellence and deep commitment to improving the overall quality of life for the American people.  It has been one of the privileges of my life to work with so many talented, dedicated, and passionate public servants.  I want to thank each and every one of you for your continued dedication, hard work, and support during my time leading this great Department.

During this incredible journey we’ve been able to accomplish so much.  It’s been through our shared efforts that we have been able to not just keep the standards of safety held high, but also push forth some of the most bold, innovative, and game-changing ideas for the transportation industry and for our country as a whole.

We were able to get the first long-term transportation bill in more than a decade. We made great strides toward embracing technology by advancing the utilization of autonomous vehicles, capitalizing on vehicle to vehicle communication, integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into our national airspace system, and more.  We pursued a future vision for transportation with Beyond Traffic and challenged cities across the country to embrace technology and engage their communities in decision-making. We have put forth rules and standards that will protect our environment for future generations to come.  And most importantly, every day we are working to make transportation accessible for all.

As many of you know, since my first day as Secretary I have made it a leading priority to ensure that we are using transportation in ways that connects historically undeserved communities and people with opportunities, jobs, education, and more. I’m honored by the zeal this approach has fully taken hold in all of the Department’s modes and is incorporated into many of our approaches and planning.  Our transportation system has the power to transform the lives of millions of Americans simply by making it readily available, safe, and reliable. Now I leave this charge in your capable hands to continue to carry forward.

The future is bright for everyone here at USDOT.  I want to thank you, again, for your unwavering support and efforts during my time here. Without you our accomplishments would not have been so frequent and our successes so many.  I will miss the opportunity to work with this group of professionals who are of such high caliber, but I am confident that there are great things ahead for everyone at the Department.

With sincere admiration,

Anthony R. Foxx

b.  Acting Secretary—Lana Hurdle – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget and Programs

trump administration aviation team

c.  Secretary Nominee Elaine Chao (may be inside the New Jersey Ave. building as a “consultant”, but technically cannot “direct” or sign anything)

trump administration aviation team

d.  Office of Inspector General—Calvin L. Scovel III, waiting and available

trump administration aviation team

2.  Federal Aviation Administration

a.  Administrator Huerta appointment until January 13, 2018

b.  FAA Executives

trump administration aviation team

c.  Names of persons announced as Acting

i.  Victoria B. Wassmer, Acting Deputy Administrator

ii.  Benito De Leon, Acting Associate Administrator for Airports

iii.  Laura J. Brown, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs

iv.  No acting Chief Counsel has been listed nor is there any incumbent listed as a Deputy Chief Counsel, which ordinarily would assume the Acting role.

3.  National Transportation Safety Board—Chairman Hart’s term as Chair terminates in March, 2017 and as a Member at the end of the year. The other Members’ terms appear to run out in 2017. There is an open appointment for a 5th Those potential changes, if exercised by the White House, could result in major alteration of the Board’s approach to safety.

II.  What does this all mean?

→  The DOT political appointments (Deputy Secretary, General Counsel, Under Secretary for Policy, Assistant Secretary for International Aviation and a host of other positions) will be the Trump Transition’s Transportation leader, Shirley Ybarra, #1 priority. Secretary Nominee Chao will be voted on by the Senate Commerce Committee this week and likely make it to the floor soon thereafter, since her husband is the Majority Leader of that august body.

Chao and Ybarra will soon begin to name their choices for the DOT political positions, a difficult task balancing knowledge of transportation against potential conflicts. Major policy decisions, like the Trump Infrastructure Spending Initiative and the ATC Privatization, will await those critical policy players.

The IG’s transition is not as clear as other positions, thus the promotional material on his website has some relevance. 

→  NTSB will function as normal, but with the awareness that its membership may be subject to change over the next year. 

→  The FAA will experience relatively minimal turbulence by the arrival of President Trump. Administrator Huerta benefits from the statutory five year term. And, from a practical standpoint he would actually benefit if the political positions within his organization are low on the Chao/Ybarra priorities. 

The transition of the Executive Branch leader has occasioned decisions by career positions to retire and/or try the private sector. The potential loss of experienced senior leaders pose might create concerns to the Administrator.

Once his Deputy, the head of Policy and International, his “lobbyist” and Chief Counsel (none subject to Senate Advice and Consent) are in position, they will neither owe their appointment to him nor necessarily reflect the Huerta philosophy (they likely will be apostles of the aviation bible according to the new President). The degree to which Secretary Chao involves anyone from the FAA political and/or career employees in the Airport Infrastructure solutions and the definition of the ATC proposal will be most interesting.

It may well be until summer when major new Trump Initiatives are unveiled, but in the interim, the FAA’s mundane yet important mission should run unencumbered.

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