Welcome Mayor Foxx to Washington. The Secretary of Transportation is an unusual, if not unique job within the Cabinet. Among the DoT modes is the FAA, an extremely visible and demanding agency. The job of the Administrator is complex and technically exacting. There is great temptation for the Secretary to become extremely involved in decision-making there. The statute limits the degree to which the Cabinet member may be “oversee” what the Administrator does.
Some of the exceptional Secretaries of recent memory, e.g. Secretary Lewis, Skinner and Mineta, understood the fundamental differences in the roles of the DoT’s CEO and the FAA Administrator. None of these men were seen at press conferences at major accidents nor did every press release about major FAA decisions include a quote from the Secretary. Aside from the statutory limits on the CEO’s participation in those decisions, this exemplary Democrat and Republican (among others) understood that the distance between the DoT and FAA on such issues was wise.
Why? Because, if there was a mistake of policy or fact, the Secretary remains an avenue for appeal.
Initial reactions to accidents are rarely spot on. Statements that “THIS solution is THE right one” have not yet passed the crucible of political or public scrutiny. The position of the Secretary must be to open to reconsideration, to have withheld the immediate response; so that the second thought can be freely annunciated by the higher authority.
The Administrator has a very large staff of knowledgeable and experienced aviation safety professionals. It is entirely appropriate for him to exercise his administrative powers without the imprimatur of the Secretary. That action actually adds to his credibility.
The Honorables Mineta, Skinner and Lewis had great relationships with their Administrators. It would be time well spent for Secretary- designate Foxx to get to know Administrator Huerta, to develop the basis of trust between them. A DoT CEO knows when to allow the Administrator room within which to do his or her job and when the office of the Secretary should become visible on issues. Premature OST presence can lead to precipitous positions, diminish the role of the Administrator and expose the Secretary to difficult situations. Trust between the two offices should result in smoothly functioning government.Share this article: