Senate confirms LaHood as U.S. Transportation Secretary

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The U.S. Senate on Thursday, Jan. 22, by voice vote confirmed former Rep. Ray LaHood as U.S. Transportation Secretary following his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Jan. 21, before members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Committee members agreed to skip a vote and send the nomination directly to the floor for confirmation, asking the Senate to confirm him quickly without a roll call vote. LaHood was set to be sworn in Friday, Jan. 23.

LaHood, one of two Republicans President Obama picked to serve in his Cabinet, told the committee that one of his priorities as Transportation Secretary will be to make sure the money Congress sets aside for construction projects to stimulate the economy is spent wisely.

“Four areas – economic health, sustainability, a focus on people and communities,
and safety – will be major priorities for me … because I believe a transportation system that meets these goals is vital to our long-term national interest,” LaHood testified before the committee. “The tools the Congress has given to the Department vary – from grants, to regulation, to research and technology, to informing the public on issues. In every case, I will seek to use those tools to pursue these goals.” Investments in intercity rail and mass transit, as called for in the $825 billion economic recovery package congressional leaders are trying to pass quickly, are part of the sustainability effort, he said.

“But whatever our goals may be, we will not achieve them unless our policy and investment decisions are driven by outcomes,” LaHood testified. “A key challenge for those who craft and manage the nation’s transportation programs – that is, all of us here today – will be to link decisionmaking to performance at all levels. This will require a new commitment to measuring performance in real time, as was called for in the recent report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission, and to adjusting our course where progress is not rapid enough. The practice of performance measurement will be key to assuring both that new money is invested wisely and that the public has the confidence to continue supporting continued investments.”

LaHood, 63, succeeds Secretary Mary Peters, who has served since 2006. The career of the seven-term House Republican from Peoria, Ill., spans a wide range of transportation modes and issues. He has known Obama for more than a decade and is close to Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who serves as the new White House chief of staff.

“I hope you will take my selection as a signal of the president’s commitment to focusing his energies on policy rather than partisanship,” LaHood told the Senate committee. “I think we all recognize that there are no Republican or Democratic transportation issues – these are national issues that affect us all.” LaHood also stressed “openness” and “fairness” as two “overarching principles” he would bring to everything he would do at USDOT.

While serving on the House Appropriations Committee, the panel that oversees federal discretionary spending, LaHood gained a reputation for working across party lines. He was ranking member of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, and also a member of the Subcommittee on Agricultural, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

“Congressman LaHood’s broad experience and well-known pragmatism make him an excellent choice to lead and support America’s transportation future,” Peters says of her successor. “There will be challenges, but there are also incredible opportunities to continue work to improve transportation safety, tackle congestion and promote mobility, expand global transportation opportunities, rebuild transportation systems after disasters, and continue fundamental transportation reform. I’m confident our nation’s transportation network will be in good hands under the leadership of Congressman LaHood.”

Since his first election to Congress in 1994, agriculture has been one of LaHood’s top priorities. He has been a staunch advocate of ethanol, supporting policies expanding ethanol production in Illinois. In 2005, the Illinois Farm Bureau awarded LaHood its highest honor, the Charles B. Shuman Distinguished Service Award.

Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, says that during LaHood’s career in Congress, he has sought to bring civility and bipartisanship to the House and has earned a well-deserved reputation as a leader who has worked with both sides of the aisle. “The Senate has confirmed a strong leader as the nation’s 16th Transportation Secretary,” Wytkind says. “Americans should feel confident that the president has placed the nation’s vast transportation system and infrastructure in the hands of a highly skilled and capable public servant with a distinguished record of service.”

Wytkind says LaHood inherits an enormous responsibility. “Our transportation infrastructure is crumbling, the rights and jobs of transportation workers have been neglected and undermined, and the safety and security of the system are severely challenged,” he says. “Through the economic recovery package and major authorization and spending bills, Secretary LaHood will oversee crucial transportation investments that will help revive the economy, put millions of Americans back to work, and lay to rest eight years of neglect and inaction that have harmed our national interest. We look forward to working with the president and Secretary LaHood to restore our transportation system as an engine of economic growth and job creation.”

The American Trucking Associations says it has worked with LaHood throughout his career, including during his service as a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and as an appropriator. Most notably for trucking, LaHood led efforts to enhance Illinois’ infrastructure; he helped secure funds to improve local highways, including the reconstruction of Interstate 74 in Peoria, expansion of U.S. Route 67 and the completion of Route 336.

After serving in the Illinois State House of Representatives in 1982, LaHood worked for U.S. House Republican Leader Bob Michel as district administrative assistant and, for four years, as chief of staff. He succeeded Michel upon his retirement in January 1995.

LaHood, born Dec. 6, 1945, is the grandson of an immigrant from Lebanon and the son of a restaurant manager. He worked his way through Spalding Institute high school, Canton Junior College and Bradley University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education and sociology from Bradley in 1971.