Trump Renominates OST-R, Amtrak Nominees

January 10, 2018

President Trump on January 8 renominated Diana Furchgott-Roth to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation For Research and Technology and Lynn Westmoreland to be a Member of the Amtrak Board of Directors.

Both nominations had been approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at a markup session on November 8, but under Senate Rule XXXI, all pending nominations have to be sent back to the President at the end of a session of Congress (which in this case was 11:59:59 a.m. on January 3). Republicans were able to get the unanimous consent of the Senate to keep other pending transportation and infrastructure nominees in place, but Democratic objections led to a lengthy list of nominees getting returned to the President this time, almost all of which were renominated by the President five days later.

The Commerce Committee has scheduled a January 18 markup session to approve Furchgott-Roth and Westmoreland a second time and return their nominations to the Senate Executive Calendar.

One transportation-related nomination was returned to the President on January 3 but was not re-submitted: Paul Trombino to be Federal Highway Administrator. Trombino had been approved by committee in October but then withdrew from consideration in mid-December, so the return of the nomination under Rule XXXI saved the President the trouble of withdrawing the nomination.

With those developments, the fate of the 17 U.S. Department of Transportation posts requiring Senate confirmation (this list excludes the Inspector General) looks like this at the start of the new session of Congress:

Confirmed by the Senate (6):

  1. Secretary  (Jan. 31, 2017)
  2. Deputy Secretary (May 16, 2017)
  3. Under Secretary (Nov. 13, 2017)
  4. General Counsel (Nov. 14, 2017)
  5. MARAD Administrator (Aug. 3, 2017)
  6. PHMSA Administrator (Oct. 5, 2017)

Approved in Committee and Pending on the Senate Executive Calendar (3): 

  1. Assistant Secretary for Governmental Affairs (since June 21, 2017)
  2. FRA Administrator (since Aug. 2, 2017)
  3. FMCSA Administrator (since Oct. 8, 2017)

Pending in Committee (1):

Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

No Nomination Made Yet (7):

  1. Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy
  2. Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs
  3. Chief Financial Officer
  4. FAA Administrator (this only opened up when Michael Huerta’s 5-year term expired last week)
  5. FHWA Administrator (nomination made but the nominee later withdrew)
  6. FTA Administrator
  7. NHTSA Administrator

A more detailed chart showing transportation nominations outside DOT as well as inside is here.

The AsstSecDOT for GovAff and FRA nominees are being held up by the New York and New Jersey Senators over their demands for a promise of funding for the new Hudson River Tunnel. We hear that a nomination for the FTA job could come shortly. Beyond that, there are no good indicators of when the other jobs will be filled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is understandably reluctant to use the cumbersome and time-consuming cloture process to confirm lower-level nominees (logically preferring to use that floor time to confirm judges who will serve for life).

House Democrats wrote to President Trump earlier this month to ask him to submit nominees for the railroad-regulating Surface Transportation Board. The STB was traditionally a three-member panel, but legislation enacted in fall 2015 expanded to five members. President Obama never nominated anyone for the two extra positions (perhaps thinking that President Clinton would like to make her own mark on rail policy when she inevitably took office in January 2017). Since then, membership of the STB has dropped to two members (and one of those, Deb Miller, saw her term expire on December 31 and then entered a holdover period that is limited by statute to no more than one year). So President Trump has the right to nominate four new STB members immediately.

Two of the four STB nominees would have to be Democrats, since the law requires that no more than three members of the STB be from the same political party, and chairman Ann Begeman is a Republican.

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