Former DOT Chief of Staff Inman Nominated to NTSB

President Biden this week nominated J. Todd Inman, former Chief of Staff to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, to be a member of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The NTSB by law has five membership slots, no more than three of which can belong to the same political party. Members can serve, with pay, in a holdover capacity after their five-year term ends until a replacement is confirmed. The current membership looks like this:

Inman, a Republican, is being nominated to replace Landsberg, for the remainder of the term expiring December 31, 2027.

Biden has already nominated former Jacksonville, Florida mayor Alvin Brown to fill the Democratic vacancy last held by Robert Sumwalt (a Republican), and the Senate Commerce Committee approved his nomination two weeks ago. But it is the custom of the Senate to move nominations to party-restricted boards and commissions in pairs, one R and one D. (Homendy and Landsberg were both confirmed by the Senate on July 24, 2018, and Chapman and Graham were both confirmed on December 19, 2019.)

So Brown’s nomination will probably have to wait until the Commerce Committee approves Inman’s nomination so that the two can move through the Senate together by unanimous consent as a package deal later this year.

Inman has an unusual, but in this case relevant, background. His first 25 years out of college were not spent in government, nor in a specific transportation mode, but in insurance (for State Farm). While it may not seem connected at first, his background was in property damage claims, both after natural disasters and, later, as a specialized arson investigator, qualified as an expert witness in state and federal courts.

Inman then got a chance to go run his own State Farm agency, in Owensboro, Kentucky, where he got involved in local politics and got to know the Who’s Who, including Senator Mitch McConnell (R) and his wife, Elaine Chao. Which explains how, on January 20, 2017, Inman wound up as part of the initial “landing team” of Trump Schedule C appointees at the U.S. Department of Transportation. He first served as Director of Operations within the Office of the Secretary, then served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Secretary, working with the Deputy Secretary to help manage the Department on a day-to-day basis.

Starting in January 2019, Inman became Chief of Staff to the Secretary, in charge of (among other things) liaison activities with other Cabinet agencies and the White House, as well as handling relations between the Secretary and state and local governments.

After leaving USDOT, Inman relocated to Florida, where he ran the state Department of Management Services from May 2021 to August 2022 under Governor DeSantis (described as the “back office” functions of the state government). While in Florida, Inman married Ann Duncan, who then got a promotion at her commercial real estate job that meant she really couldn’t live in Tallahassee, so they decided last summer to relocate to D.C.

Inman then took a job at APCO Worldwide public relations, which he will have to relinquish if confirmed to the NTSB.

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