Senate Confirms Hutcheson to Head FMCSA

The U.S. Senate yesterday afternoon confirmed the nomination of Robin Hutcheson to be Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The Senate did so by voice vote.

Hutcheson was nominated for the post on April 7, had her committee hearing on June 8, and was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on June 22. Her nomination was pending on the Executive Calendar since that time, but about half of that time was spent while the Senate was in its summer recess. This qualifies as a fairly expeditious process by modern standards.

At the outset of the Biden Administration, Hutcheson was in the Office of the Secretary, as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety Policy. As such, she worked with Congress on some of the new safety programs created by the bipartisan infrastructure law (the two new safety grant programs run out of the Secretary’s Office in particular). At that time, someone else was the nominee to run FMCSA, but that person bailed out at the end of 2021 to go be a Deputy Mayor of New York City, at which point Hutcheson was moved over in an acting capacity and then eventually nominated.

This confirmation means that five of the eight modal administrations at USDOT that are subject to Senate confirmation now have a Senate-confirmed Administrator in place (FMCSA, FRA, FTA, NHTSA, MARAD). The others:

  • Federal Highway Administration – Shailen Bhatt had an easy confirmation hearing in the Senate last week and, unless something goes drastically wrong, will breeze through his committee vote in the next two weeks and possibly get confirmed by the full Senate before the election recess (if not, almost certainly by the end of the year).
  • Federal Aviation Administration – Speaking of things going drastically wrong, the nomination of Phil Washington – a well-respected mass transit executive and current CEO of Denver International Airport – to head the FAA hit a big snag recently. A long-simmering political spat (political, but not partisan – it’s blue-on-blue) between the Los Angeles County Sheriff and one of the members of the civilian oversight board that investigates complaints against the Sheriff’s office went nuclear on September 14. Deputies raided the homes of the oversight board member, the elected county supervisor who appointed the oversight board member, and other places including the offices of the transit authority, where they were looking for indications that the county supervisor had pressured Washington and LA Metro to award a contract to a nonprofit run by the oversight board member. The unusually political nature of this investigation is indicated by (a) the fact that a local judge on September 15 ordered the Sheriff’s office not to touch the computers taken from LA Metro; (b) the L.A. County District Attorney did not approve the subpoenas and has refused to take part in the investigation; and (c) on September 20, the California Attorney General ordered the Sheriff to cease the investigation and said they will be taking over. Nevertheless, the brouhaha comes at a bad time for Washington’s nomination, since he doesn’t have a pre-existing broad base of Republican support, which prompted Commerce Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (R-MS) to issue a statement of concern just after the Sheriff’s raids. No hearing has yet been scheduled, and it is uncertain how chairman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wants to handle the situation.
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – The Biden Administration has had since January 20, 2021 to nominate someone to run PHMSA and still has not done so.

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