Trump Nominates Board Members for Amtrak, MWAA

February 2, 2018

President Trump today announced his intention to nominate new members of the Boards of Directors of Amtrak and of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The Amtrak Board nominee is a member of the Florida House of Representatives.  Joseph Gruters is a certified public accountant by trade and hails from Sarasota. He co-chaired Trump’s campaign in the Sunshine State. Amtrak train service does not quite stretch into Gruters’ district, stopping in Tampa, which is an hour’s or so drive north.

Gruters is being nominated to fill the seat on the Amtrak Board vacated by Derek Kan, who quit shortly into a five-year term last fall to become Under Secretary of Transportation. Under 49 U.S.C. §24302, Amtrak’s Board of Directors has ten members. The Amtrak President and the Secretary of Transportation are statutory members, and the other eight are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to five-year terms. Six of those eight slots are currently occupied.

The statute says that all Presidential nominees to the Board must have some of the following qualifications:

…general business and financial experience, experience or qualifications in transportation, freight and passenger rail transportation, travel, hospitality, cruise line, or passenger air transportation businesses, or representatives of employees or users of passenger rail transportation or a State government.

As a CPA and as chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee of the Florida State University Board of Trustees (overseeing a budget of $1.7 billion per year), Gruters qualifies under the “financial experience” criterion.

The statute also requires the President to consult with the four Congressional party leaders (so that the Board is not dominated by one political party), and he must also “try to provide adequate and balanced representation of the major geographic regions of the United States served by Amtrak.”

The six current members of the Amtrak Board subject to Presidential appointment are from California, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and two from Delaware. President Trump has nominated Gruters, a Floridian, as well as Lynn Westmoreland, from Georgia, to fill the two empty seats. (Westmoreland’s nomination was favorably reported from committee on January 18 and is pending on the Senate Executive Calendar.)

President Trump also announced that he intents to nominate Alan Cobb, an attorney from Kansas and head of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, to be one of the three Presidentially-appointed members of the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) Board of Directors.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport were both build, owned and operated by the federal government until MWAA was created in 1986 as a joint local governmental entity to operate the airports. MWAA has leased the airports from the FAA until the year 2067. The MWAA Board has seven members appointed by the Governor of Virginia (in which state both airports are located), four by the Mayor of the District of Columbia, three by the Governor of Maryland, and three by the President of the United States, all for six-year terms.

Cobb does not appear to have an aviation background, except for what everyone near Wichita picks up from being around the General Aviation Capital of Planet Earth. He worked for Americans for Prosperity (Koch Brothers) from 2004-2012 but has a long history in political campaigns, from Bob Dole for President in 1996 through a variety of other House and Senate campaigns in Kansas. He joined the Trump for President campaign extremely early on – March 2015 – and eventually rose to “director of coalitions” for the campaign in summer 2016.

Instead of taking a job in the Administration initially, he went back to Kansas to run in the Republican primary for the open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (KS-04) that became available when Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) became CIA Director. He did not win that primary, and took the job with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce thereafter.

Both nominations will be referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee when the official paperwork is received from the White House.

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

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