In a serendipitous coincidence, six of America’s former Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) gathered for the Goode Transportation Policy Conference less than 10 minutes away from the White House where President Obama was announcing his new nominee for Secretary of Transportation, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx. Here’s what the former secretaries had to say both to the new nominee and about the President’s they served:
What advice would these former DOT heads have for the nominee who comes behind them?
“Perhaps start with ‘Our Father who art in heaven,’” joked Norman Mineta, Secretary of Transportation from 2001- 2006 under Bush. All six former Secretaries reiterated the same theme – take the lessons you learned from the outside but come to D.C. knowing that the USDOT staff are ready and able to advise on a successful path. Andrew Card, former Secretary of Transportation under President Bush mentioned that keeping peripheral vision as a leader can be challenging but important to achieving the goals you set out. Former Secretary Mary Peters, also under Bush, spoke to the need to set a “north star” for the staff in order to achieve what’s needed in the short timeframe before the next transportation bill.
What conversations did former Secretaries have with their President to set the agenda?
Former Secretary Rodney Slater who lead the USDOT during President Clinton’s mantra of “It’s the economy stupid” said that aligning their agenda to the President’s began with shifting how they even talked about transportation. During a time of reinventing government, the USDOT agenda was about what connected us and what moves us forward as a country emphasizing how we use transportation to connect people to opportunities and how transportation gives us an easy reach to markets, both globally and locally. However, not every Secretary had a direct conversation with the President to set their agenda. After working for President Reagan for years, former Secretary James Burnley knew exactly what the priorities were. However, they worked closely on some interesting discussions that are still relevant today including where the air traffic control division would be spun off of FAA similar to Canada.
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