White House Names 3 More DOT Nominees; 4 Others Approved in Committee

This week, President Biden transmitted three more U.S. Department of Transportation nominees to the Senate, while the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved four pending nominees and questioned a fifth.

The new nominees are:

  • John Putnam, General Counsel, USDOT. Putnam has been serving as Acting General Counsel since January 2021. Prior to that, he was a longtime attorney in D.C. and Colorado with Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell, a Denver-based transportation and land use law firm with a D.C. office. When Jared Polis left Congress to become Governor of the Centennial State, he named Putnam to be Director of Environmental Programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
  • Ann Phillips, Administrator, Maritime Administration. Rear Admiral Phillips (Retired) spent 31 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy (receiving a commission in 1983 after graduating from the University of North Carolina). She spent career in surface warfare, (official bio here), culminating as Director of Surface Warfare on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations. Since retirement, she got a MBA from William and Mary and has worked on sea level rise issues in the Norfolk-Hampton Roads area, where the White House press release says “she coordinates across Federal, State, local and other partners to create equitable strategies to address rising waters and climate impact to federal, maritime, and other critical coastal infrastructure assets in Virginia.”
  • Steven Cliff, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Like Putnam (and like several other pending USDOT nominees), Cliff has been serving as the #2 appointee at NHTSA for some time and thus been designated Acting Administrator. Dr. Cliff has a background in environmental science (a Ph.D. in chemistry from UC-San Diego, then a decade as a professor, then spending most of the 2008-2020 period with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), where he worked primarily on vehicle emissions and emission controls. (He did a two-year stint from 2014-2016 as the first Assistant Director for Sustainability of the California Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, at an October 20 business meeting, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved four pending USDOT nominees, placing their names on the Senate Executive Calendar:

  • Victoria Wassmer, Chief Financial Officer, USDOT – approved by voice vote.
  • Mohsin Syed, Assistant Secretary for Government Affairs, USDOT – approved by voice vote.
  • Meera Joshi, Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – approved by roll call vote of 22 yeas, 6 nays. (“Nay” votes were Republicans Cruz (TX), Blackburn (TN), Lee (UT), Johnson (WI), Scott (FL), Lummis (WY).)
  • Amit Bose, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration – approved by voice vote. (Sen. Thune (R-SD) expressed concern with Bose’s lack of progress on approving automated track safety equipment.)

Those nominees now go to the Senate Executive Calendar, where Majority Leader Schumer will try to get unanimous consent in the coming weeks to approve as many as possible that way, and for any who cannot get “UC,” to find opportunities to spend a few hours doing roll call votes on cloture and confirmation (with a short waiting period in between).

Meanwhile, immediately after the votes on nominees, the Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine the nominations of Christopher Coes to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Transportation Policy and of Max Vekich to be a member of the Federal Maritime Commission.

The four nominees reported yesterday join six others who had already been pending on the Executive Calendar. USDOT currently has 18 positions that require Senate confirmation. Two were not vacant for President Biden to fill. (FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is in the middle of a fixed 5-year term, and the Inspector General serves during good behavior and has only been in office nine months.

Of the other 16 positions, four have been confirmed by the Senate and 10 others are now pending in the Senate, meaning that the White House still needs to make nominations for two others (FHWA Administrator and PHMSA Administrator):

Confirmed Pending No Nominee
Secretary 1
Deputy Sec. 1
Under Sec. 1
Gen. Counsel 1
AS – Policy 1
AS – Aviation 1
AS – Govt. Aff. 1
AS – Research 1
DOT TOTAL 4 10 2

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, where keep a list of all Biden transportation nominees and their status, updated several times a week.

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