Secretary of Transportation is CEO of Large and Demanding Modes; Executive Record a Prerequisite

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ARTICLE: Safety-Board Chief Is a Top Pick for Transportation Post


As mentioned recently by the AFL-CIO, the position of Secretary of Transportation involves a number of executive skill sets. Having done an excellent job of publicizing the work of an investigating agency may deserve some consideration, but that accomplishment should not be solely determinative.

The Secretary is the Chief Executive Officer of a large conglomerate—OST, FAA, FHWA, FMCSA, FRA, FTA, MARAD, NHTSA, PHMSA, RITA, SLSDA, and STB. Those twelve organizations operate a very large Air Traffic Control organization (including the civil federal government’s largest program [NextGen], a major seaway system, manage several multibillion dollar funds for infrastructure grants, regulate the safety of nine different transportation modes (operating and manufacturing), regulate the economics of several modes, negotiate with foreign governments, and provide staff support for the Secretary. This last element provides policy direction, congressional affairs, budgetary parameters, personnel instructions, legal advice, information systems and civil rights. The Secretary is responsible for the management of 58,622 employees and a budget of $79 billion (the NTSB has 359 employees and a budget of $76.7 million).

Perhaps most importantly, the Administrators have all been found to be capable of managing their organizations under the leadership of Secretary LaHood. Any candidate for the Secretary position should be queried about her/his ability to work with them. It would be a great disservice to all modes of transportation if a new Secretary forces the resignation of one or more of the existing Administrators.

The job of Secretary is a demanding one. The person sitting atop of this large organization cannot micro manage all of the modes; he or she must delegate substantial authority to the Administrators. There are moments when the CEO must become more involved in select issues, but to place her or his fingerprint on every announcement will unnecessarily delay the work of these governmental subsidiaries.

As the AFL-CIO statement highlights, knowledge of infrastructure development is an important prerequisite to holding this job. The Secretary also needs, soon after confirmation, to establish several initiatives, like BUDGET management (the Fiscal Cliff), infrastructure, finance, environmental concern, minority contracting, international preeminence and other major themes of the Obama Agenda. Once established, the Secretary’s role is to allow his/her Administrators to do their jobs. An executive with the experience and judgment can articulate what she/he wants to be done and allow the team to execute.

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