Welcome to Washington Secretary Foxx—some hopefully helpful thoughts on a Good Relationship with the FAA Administrator

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ARTICLE: Obama Nominates Charlotte Mayor To Run DoT

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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.

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1 Comment on "Welcome to Washington Secretary Foxx—some hopefully helpful thoughts on a Good Relationship with the FAA Administrator"

  1. Flight Delays, And Now This
    DoT gets a new chief who sees air travel as a revenue raiser.
    After holding the door open for airline delays on behalf of his sequester politics, President Obama doesn’t seem worried about reassuring angry passengers. In nominating Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx on Monday to serve as Secretary of Transportation, Mr. Obama has chosen a politician embroiled in a growing controversy over airports and air travel.

    Expect Team Obama to associate Mayor Foxx with North Carolina’s wildly successful Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT), which has thrived for decades by offering dependable service at rock-bottom prices. But lately Mayor Foxx (elected in 2009) and his allies on the Charlotte City Council have become a threat to those low prices.

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    Assistant editorial page editor James Freeman on President Obama’s nominating Anthony Foxx to head the Department of Transportation. Photo credit: Associated Press.

    The Charlotte airport charges an average of just 96 cents per enplaned passenger. Other hubs typically tax at rates 10 times that, or roughly $10 per enplaned passenger. At New York airports, the cost can soar above $45.

    The Charlotte bargain has made the airport so appealing as a hub that it’s now the sixth largest in the country measured in take-offs and landings—remarkable given that Charlotte is the country’s 23rd largest metro area.

    But the mayor doesn’t seem to understand that this transportation goose can lay its golden eggs only if it offers low prices. Last year, over the objections of airport administrators, Mr. Foxx insisted on replacing airport police with higher-paid city cops. In one year, police costs at the airport more than doubled. We’re told that after CLT added a new runway in 2010, Mr. Foxx’s government also required hiring more firefighters than the airport’s managers wanted.

    The Charlotte Observer recently reported on a city plan last fall to raise $3.9 million via a tax on airport parking spaces. The Foxx administration abandoned the plan amid concerns it would violate a federal law that prohibits using airport revenues on other programs.

    Last month the North Carolina State Senate voted to take control of the airport away from Mr. Foxx and the Charlotte pols and place it in the hands of a regional authority. An authority called the U.S. Senate must now decide whether passengers deserve a transportation chief who seems dedicated to raising their ticket prices.

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