Trump Nominates Former NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason to Head FHWA

January 4, 2019

At 5:30 p.m. yesterday, President Trump sent a package of 17 new nominations to the U.S. Senate. The nomination at the head of the list (William Barr to be Attorney General) had been expected, but the list also included Nicole Nason to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

The head job at FHWA (by far the biggest modal administration in the Department of Transportation in terms of funding levels) has been vacant for the entire first two years of the Trump Administration. President Trump nominated a widely respected state DOT head, Paul Trombino, for the FHWA job in September 2017, and he was approved unanimously in committee six weeks later, but shortly thereafter, he surprised everyone by pulling his name from consideration.

Just like the author of this article, Nicole Nason moved to Washington D.C. in September 1988 to attend American University, and she then went straight to law school and got a job with the House Judiciary Committee shortly after getting her J.D. in 1995. After a brief time as a lobbyist for an insurance company, she went back to the Hill to work for Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), the Intelligence Committee chairman, from 2000-2002 and then got a job in the Congressional Affairs office of the Customs Service.

In March 2003, she was recruited by the Department of Transportation (under Secretary Norm Mineta) to be Assistant Secretary for Governmental Affairs – her nomination paperwork was officially transmitted to the Senate in May 2003, she was approved unanimously by the Commerce Committee, and she was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote in July 2003.

As such, she worked extensively with Congress and the White House during the torturous surface transportation reauthorization bill negotiations that started in mid-2003 and culminated in the enactment of the SAFETEA-LU law in August 2005.

President Bush then nominated her to be the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January 2006, and she was again confirmed by the Senate by voice vote on May 26, 2006. In addition to implementing the various safety reforms that were required by SAFETEA-LU, her time at NHTSA also coincided with President Bush’s December 2007 signature of the energy bill that mandated the first increase in corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards since the 1970s, and Nason issued the CAFE rule in April 2008.

She stayed in the NHTSA job until August 2008, before leaving to take time off and raise her three small children. She and her family relocated to Connecticut in 2010 when her husband David (also a product of American U.) took a major job with General Electric.

After sitting out the Obama years in Connecticut (and teaching martial arts), she returned to DC in June 2017 as a senior advisor to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and was then appointed as Assistant Secretary of State for Administration by President Trump in December 2017 (that AS job does not require Senate confirmation).

Her nomination to head FHWA will be referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The transcript of her confirmation hearing for the AsstSecDOT job is here and the transcript of her hearing for the NHTSA Administrator job is here.

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