Senate Confirms FRA, FMCSA and GovAff Nominees; White House Picks Drake for FTA Administrator

February 14, 2018

The Senate broke a six-month logjam last night and confirmed, by voice vote, Ronald Batory to be Federal Railroad Administrator and Adam Sullivan to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Government Affairs. Both nominations had been held up by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other New York and New Jersey Senators since early August 2017 as leverage in talks with the White House over the proper federal share of funding for the $30+ billion Gateway Program of rail projects in those states.

But three fatal Amtrak crashes in six weeks (one of which involved a train in which hundreds of Congressmen and Senators were traveling) and an increased focus on FRA’s pivotal role in overseeing railroad implementation of positive train control (PTC) technology before the December 31, 2018 deadline (a House hearing is scheduled for tomorrow) put the spotlight on the fact that Democrats were holding up a well-qualified nominee to be the nation’s chief railroad safety regulator. And the recent departure of the Acting FRA Administrator due to a POLITICO investigation into his unauthorized side job also served to draw attention to the leadership vacuum at the top of the agency.

At the same time, the Senate also confirmed Raymond Martinez to be Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator. Martinez was approved in committee last fall and had been pending on the Executive Calendar since November 8, 2017.

As if that was not enough nomination-related news in one day, the White House last night announced the President’s intent to nominate former Congresswoman Thelma Drake (R-VA) to be Federal Transit Administrator.

Drake served as a Virginia state legislator from 1995-2004 and then served two terms in the U.S. House from 2005-2008, during which she was appointed to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. After losing her seat in the Obama wave election of 2008, she served in Governor Bob McDonnell’s state Cabinet as director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation for four years. Since 2015, she has worked for the City of Norfolk, most recently as the Assistant Director of Public Works for Transportation.

Once the Senate receives the paperwork from the White House, her nomination will be referred to the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

This means that there are now six vacant Senate-confirmable positions at USDOT for which President Trump has no pending nominees selected:

  • Federal Aviation Administrator (this one did not become vacant until last month because it has a fixed five-year term)
  • Federal Highway Administrator (the Administration had nominated someone but they dropped out late last year)
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy
  • Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs

Reminder: bookmark ETW’s constantly-updated calendar of transportation-related nominations here.


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