What Secretary Foxx should look for within the DoT

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ARTICLE: Former secretaries to Foxx: Reach out to DOT staffers


The David R. Goode National Transportation Policy Conference, organized by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center created a unique, unsolicited forum at the National Press Club for advice to new DoT Secretary Anthony Foxx. The Conference brought together former Secretaries James Burnley, Andrew Card, Norman Mineta, Mary Peters, Samuel Skinner and Rodney Slater (in apolitical, alphabetical order) to share some thoughts with the newest head of the multimodal department which regulates safety and policy for all forms of transportation.

The five wise men and one wise woman imparted advice:

Sec. Mineta “start with ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’”
Sec. Card “Invite them to be wise counselors.”
Sec. Peters “Provide them with your True North.”

But according to The Hill report, the reoccurring theme was to engage the senior career staff.

For a slightly different perspective, we asked for some suggestions from a few folks (career and political) who worked for various Secretaries and Administrators The thoughts which they provided from a bottom-up perspective included the following set of questions that a new Secretary or Administrator might use while he/she engages the career staff:

  • Who among your career advisers gives you neutral counsel?
  • Who does not spin it with their policy goals?
  • Who handles stress well?
  • Who really understands what you, as S-1, can/cannot do legally?
  • Who delivers the needed work product when YOU need it?
  • Who is a good manager of staff?
  • Who knows how best to deal with OMB, other Departments, the Hill and stakeholders in moving proposals through the APA process?
  • Who is good at gathering and fairly summarizing comments from the DoT staff and the inputs of the modal administrations’ staff?
  • Who can write, particularly those who understand how you think/write/speak?
  • Who shows an ability to explain the incredibly technical aspects of an issue in a way that you understand? And
  • Who has great instincts as to how the general public (your set of stakeholders), the White House and the Hill are going to react (probably multiple people, one per each audience)?

A great relationship between and among the Secretary, the Administrators and the DoT/modal staffs is critical to a successful tenure at the Department of Transportation.

There is a lot of talent throughout the buildings. Some of those people are more able to support the Secretary in different ways as noted in the above list. For example, recognizing who among them can get the analysis done in a way that suits your needs will assure that when a crisis hits, your briefing paper is not only reliable, but useful.

A Secretary who is able to discern the key attributes within the DoT and modal career staffs will be remembered as a successful executive. Closing the ranks and relying on an inner circle of trusted people will minimize the input to Secretary’s decision- making process.

[In case you missed it, Secretary Foxx here are some thoughts on how best to relate to Administrator Huerta]

The above questions were from a narrow group and anyone else with suggestions of what this new Secretary should do to maximize his judgment are welcomed.

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