Trottenberg Leads Team of Biden Appointees to USDOT

As one of its last acts, the Biden transition on January 18 announced that Polly Trottenberg will be President Biden’s nominee to be Deputy Secretary of Transportation. And earlier today, several dozen initial appointees for DOT posts that do not require Senate confirmation were announced.

Trottenberg spent the first five years of the Obama Administration at DOT, serving as the #3 officer in the Department (Under Secretary for Policy) for a little over a year after having spent three-and-a-half years as Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. She then spent 2014-2020 as the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, adding administrative experience (NYCDOT has 5,000 employees and a billion-dollar annual budget) to her policy chops. The administrative side is important, as the Deputy usually serves as the chief operating officer of the department.

Before jointing the Administration, Trottenberg worked on Capitol Hill for a dozen years, starting with the late, great Pat Moynihan (D-NY), then serving as Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) legislative director, and then in the same role for Barbara Boxer while Boxer was chairing the Environment and Public Works Committee. She left the Hill to run the nonpartisan infrastructure coalition, Building America’s Future. Prior to coming to Capitol Hill, she worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in their aviation office.

Trottenberg’s two prior Senate confirmations both went through by voice vote.

This is the earliest that an incoming Administration has announced the choice for Deputy Secretary of Transportation in 40 years (Darrell Trent, Reagan’s first Deputy, managed to get confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 1981). Here are the dates of the public announcements of the intent to nominate for this job in all the subsequent first-term Administrations:

  • George H.W. Bush (Elaine Chao) – February 16, 1989
  • Bill Clinton (Mort Downey) – March 27, 1993
  • George W. Bush (Michael Jackson) – February 13, 2001
  • Barack Obama (John Porcari) – April 10, 2009
  • Donald Trump (Jeff Rosen) – March 7, 2017
  • Joe Biden (Polly Trottenberg) – January 18, 2021

No other nominees have been announced yet for DOT, but a whole lot of employees in the “landing team” were announced. Some of these people, who were named to deputy posts, may be able to immediately assume “acting” status as the head of their office. And some people who have been named to posts that do not require Senate confirmation may be nominated for Senate-confirmed posts later. It’s all dependent on the vagaries of the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. (It’s complicated – see this Congressional Research Service report on the law for details.)

Per that CRS report, the “first assistant” or “top deputy” in an office becomes the acting head of that office if the head job is vacant, and the White House has named a bunch of top deputies to the modal administrations and assistant secretary offices. However, this complicates any plans to nominate those people to the Senate-confirmed head positions. Per the CRS report: “As a general rule, if the President nominates a person to the vacant position, that person ‘may not serve as an acting officer’ for that position. Thus, if the President nominates a person who is currently the acting officer for that position, that person usually may not continue to serve as acting officer without violating the Vacancies Act…There is an exception to this limitation: a person who is nominated to an office may serve as acting officer for that office if that person is in a ‘first assistant’ position to that office and either (1) has served in that position for at least 90 days or (2) was appointed to that position through the advice-and-consent process.”

In that case, we may see a string of nominations starting in late April, once some of these people have run out the 90-day clock on service needed to continue serving in an acting role while their nomination for the full job is pending.

Immediate Office of the Secretary. Lana Hurdle, a 20-year DOT veteran who has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget and Programs for several years, has been tapped by the President to serve as Acting Secretary until Pete Buttigieg is confirmed and sworn in. Former Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Carlos Monje is now Acting Chief of Staff of the Department. (Monje is also Senior Advisor to the Secretary, which is usually a transitory title that means they will be nominated for some Senate-confirmed position soon, and Under Secretary for Policy would be the logical spot for him.)

At some point soon, Laura Schiller will take over from Monje as Chief of Staff. Danielle Hirshberg will be Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and Sophie Shulman will be Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Justine Hong will serve as Director of the Executive Secretariat, and Philip McNamara will be Assistant Secretary for Administration. Allie Panther will be White House Liaison. And Vinn White, who served in a variety of DOT positions for almost all of the eight years of the Obama Administration, will be “Senior Advisor for Implementation.”

Dani Simons will be Assistant to the Secretary and Director of Public Affairs. And Courtenay Raymond, who was the head of scheduling for the Buttigieg campaign, will be Director of Scheduling and Advance in OST.

Policy office. Chris Coes, a land use specialist from Smart Growth America, is now Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. NATCO President and Minneapolis Director of Public Works Robin Hutcheson will be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety Policy. Former Obama White House (and Hillary 2016 campaign) economic policy adviser Michael Shapiro, who was most recently at Sidewalk Labs, will be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy. Florence Chen will be Special Assistant for Policy (the same title she had on the Buttigieg campaign), as will Tatjana Kunz. Annie Petsonk from the Environmental Defense Fund will be Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs.

Other OST. John Putnam (possibly this guy) will be Deputy General Counsel, and Alex Pena will be Special Assistant to the General Counsel. Former FAA Assistant Administrator for Finance Victoria Wassmer will be the non-career Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance and Budget. University of Michigan professor Robert Hampshire will be Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology. Within the Governmental Affairs office, Edward McGlone (currently the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee aide in charge of chairman Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR) personal and regional priorities) will be the DAS for the House and Mohsin Syed (current House T&I Committee counsel but former Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee counsel) will be the DAS for the Senate. Charles Small will be the third DAS, for Intergovernmental Affairs, and Will Rasky will be the Special Assistant in that office. Irene Marion will serve as Director of the Office of Civil Rights.

FAA. Brad Mims, longtime transportation policy expert, COMTO head, and MWAA board member, will be Deputy Administrator. Laurence Wildgoose, from the Senate Commerce Committee, will be the Assistant Administrator for Policy, International Affairs, and Environment.

FHWA. Massachusetts DOT head Stephanie Pollack will be Deputy Administrator, and seems a likely candidate to be nominated for Administrator as soon as the Vacancies Reform Act allows. Andrew Rogers will be Chief Counsel, and Charlene Wang will be Special Assistant.

FTA. Nuria Fernandez will soon be back in her old job as Deputy Administrator, which she held from July 1997 to January 2001, the last 14 months of which were as Acting Administrator. Her most recent job has been as GM/CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. If she is nominated for Administrator, it will be her second time—she was nominated in March 2000 but the clock ran out on the Clinton Administration before she was confirmed. (Her confirmation hearing before the Banking Committee was May 11, 2000). Subash Iyer, currently the Special Counsel for Ethics, Risk and Compliance at the New York City MTA, will be Chief Counsel.

FRA. Another repeater is Amit Bose, who will be Deputy Administrator, and who held that post at the end of the Obama Administration. Since then he has been the regional director for transit and rail in the mid-Atlantic for HNTB. Diana Lopez will serve as Senior Advisor to the Administrator.

NHTSA. Steve Cliff, currently the Deputy Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board, will serve as Deputy Administrator. If nominated to the head job, that is as big an indicator as you want of how climate-focused this Administration will be, since fuel economy standards are normally not the main focus of what NHTSA does. Ann Carlson (possibly this person) will be Chief Counsel.

FMCSA. Meera Joshi, who was until recently the Commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, will serve as Deputy Administrator.

MARAD. Lucinda Lessley, a longtime staffer for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on his Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee who then went with him to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and who has been a Homeland Security Committee staffer since Rep. Cummings’ tragic passing, will serve as Deputy Administrator.

PHMSA. No word on Deputy/Acting Administrator yet, but Casey Clemmons (from the Buttigieg campaign) will be Special Assistant.

Trottenberg, Monje, White, Mims and Chen all served on the DOT Agency Review Team as part of the Biden transition.

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