Martinez’s exit could leave FMCSA without an administrator for years

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Updated Nov 1, 2019

Ray Martinez has left the building.

That is, U.S. DOT headquarters in Washington, where he headed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a little over a year and a half, from late February 2018 until Monday.

His abrupt departure, among other personnel shuffling, has left Jim Mullen, the agency’s former chief counsel and current deputy administrator, as the top ranking official and, thus, in charge of the day-to-day operations of FMCSA.

Effectively, Mullen is the agency’s acting/interim administrator, an FMCSA official says.

What’s more, Mullen could be poised to hold the position of interim administrator for years, no matter the outcome of the presidential election next year, should recent history serve as a barometer.

Administrators of FMCSA must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. That’s not a quick process. For instance, President Trump nominated Martinez in late September 2017 — a full eight months after Trump took office. Martinez was then not confirmed by the Senate until five months later, February of 2018, and he was sworn in as the agency’s boss February 28, 2018.

Likewise, when former administrator Anne Ferro departed the agency in August 2014, in the second year of President Obama’s second term, Scott Darling was tapped to run the agency on an interim basis — a position he held for nearly two full years, before he was nominated as the agency’s permanent administrator and confirmed by the Senate in July 2016.

What’s more, the Trump Administration faces a lingering and sizeable backlog of appointment vacancies across the government, and given the current political turmoil in Washington and a looming presidential election, finding a new appointee to run FMCSA likely isn’t a priority.

It’s conceivable to think Trump may not nominate a replacement for Martinez until after the election, should he win, which could mean Mullen would helm the agency on an acting basis for a year to 18 months.

Should Trump lose the election and a new president enter the White House, it could be into 2022 before the agency again has a permanent administrator in place.

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Obviously, these scenarios are hypothetical and based on recent history, and Trump very well could announce a replacement sooner rather than later and the Senate could move swiftly in confirming him or her. But it seems more likely that Mullen might hold the position as the agency’s top official longer than Martinez did.