Fernandez Retiring from FTA; Biden Taps Baker as New DOT General Counsel

The Federal Transit Administration announced this week that Administrator Nuria I. Fernandez will be retiring from her post on February 24, to be replaced (at least temporarily) by Deputy Administrator Veronica Vanterpool.

“As a young immigrant to this great nation and a student at Bradley University, I could never have imagined serving millions of transit riders across that nation who take billions of trips every year, doing so under two Presidents, in the service of the American people,” Fernandez said. “Public service is an honor and a privilege, and I am eternally grateful to President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg for granting me the opportunity to guide the dedicated and professional public servants at FTA. Public transportation has been a significant part of my professional life for more than three decades. I have had the distinction to have built a career serving in various roles in this industry and across this country. But, as I often say, our jobs are what we do, not who we are. As I leave what I do, I look forward to spending more time with my family and friends, who have truly created so much of who I am.”

This was actually Fernandez’s second stint running the FTA. The first time was when she had served as Acting Administrator after Gordon Linton departed, way back in the last century (1999-2001). The Clinton White House eventually sent her name in nomination for the full-time post in March 2000, but it was already too late in an election year to get most nominations through the Senate. She was named Acting Administrator for a second time 20 years later, on January 20, 2021, and this time was nominated (and confirmed) promptly, being sworn in in June 2021 as the first Senate-confirmed Administrator in over seven years.

As Administrator, she was responsible for helping the FTA adjust to a much larger budget provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, with its massive resource shift towards electric buses and its extra resources for the Capital Investment Grant program. She also saw the biggest CIG grant to date, the NYC Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, through to it signing, but will apparently be leaving a few months shy of the signing of the FFGA To End All FFGAs, the $14.6 billion Hudson River Tunnel ($6.9 billion CIG share, grant to be executed in “Mid 2024” per the latest CIG dashboard), which she shepherded through EIS and PE into Engineering.

Meanwhile, yesterday the White House nominated Sarah Baker to be General Counsel of the Department of Transportation, replacing John Putnam, who went back to Colorado last September.

Baker has been serving as the #2 in that office (Principal Deputy General Counsel), having worked her way two slots up that ladder since coming aboard in early 2021. She had experience in the White House Counsel’s office (and in Second Lady Jill Biden’s office) during the Obama Administration, where she came in 2011 after a 7-year stint at Hogan Lovells. During the Trump Interregnum, she founded We The Action, a digital platform used by lawyers nationwide to volunteer with leading nonprofit organizations.

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