Shift: Rice seeks to consolidate
foreign aid.

Changes are in the wind for the U.S. Agency for International Development. President Bush has nominated a new USAID administrator and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants him to wear a second hat, as director of a centralized foreign aid program. USAID recently has had a significant role in construction, overseeing billions worth of rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. But whether it will expand that infrastructure activity to other countries, and what effect Rice's proposal will have are open questions.

The White House said Jan. 19 that Bush picked Randall L. Tobias, U.S. global AIDS coordinator, to head USAID. Earlier, Tobias was chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly & Co. If confirmed, he would succeed Andrew Natsios, who in early January joined the faculty of Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Rice also wants USAID's chief to lead a restructured foreign aid effort. "The authority to allocate foreign assistance is too fragmented among multiple State Dept. bureaus and offices, and between State and USAID," she said in a Jan. 19 address. USAID wouldn't be merged into the State Dept., but the new foreign aid director would report to her and "have authority over all State Dept. and USAID foreign assistance."

Howard Menaker, a Bechtel National Inc. spokesman, says, "I think it's too early to say whether this will have any effect on the construction industry or the way that the U.S. offers assistance in the form of construction and related activities." Bechtel has had two USAID contracts totaling up to $2.8 billion, to repair and rebuild Iraqi power and water systems and other infrastructure there. As of Jan. 20, USAID Iraq obligations totaled slightly more than $5 billion, about half of that for construction.

In USAID's early years, it had a focus on infrastructure in developing countries. But in the early 1970s, Congress directed U.S. foreign aid to shift more to areas such as agriculture and education. Public works tasks didn't disappear, but were deemphasized. More recently, with work in the former Yugoslavia, USAID's infrastructure effort "gained favor and expanded dramatically," says an industry observer.

But will USAID's revived infrastructure activity be long- lived? The source notes that the agency's Iraq and Afghanistan work has been financed through supplemental spending bills, not its regular budget, which is too small to cover sustained activity in building kilometers of roads or canals.

Labor: New Appoint- ee Brings NLRB to Full Strength
For the first time since December 2004, the National Labor Relations Board will have its full, five-member complement, with President Bush's Jan. 17 recess appointment of former NLRB member Dennis P. Walsh, a Democrat. He had two NLRB stints between December 2000 and December 2004.

The board recently has had as few as two members, and held off deciding important cases, including some affecting construction (ENR 1/16 p. 9). NLRB policy has been to have at least three votes for a position on major cases. On Jan. 4 Bush named Republican attorney Peter N. Kirsanow to the panel via recess appointment. NLRB now has three Republicans and two Democrats. The recess appointments last through the next session of Congress.

Transit: New Yorker Picked To Head FTA
President Bush has selected former New York MetropolitanTransportation Authority board member James S. Simpson to lead the Federal Transit Administration, the White House said Jan. 17. Simpson, 49, is chairman and CEO of VictoryWorldwide Transportation Inc., a moving company based in Staten Island. He was on MTA's board from 1995 until last year. If the Senate confirms Simpson as FTA administrator,he would succeed Jennifer Dorn, who now is U.S. alternate executive director to the World Bank.

"I think he'll be a good player," says Mortimer Downey, chairman of Parsons Brinckerhoff's PB Consult unit and MTA executive director in 1986-93. Downey says that, according to MTA sources, as a board member Simpson "really did understand business issues...and did his homework."

Congress: Race To Be House Majority Leader Expands
A third candidate, Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, has entered the contest to be House Majority Leader, the chamber's number-two GOP post. Shadegg on Jan. 13 joined acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt of Missouri and Ohio's John Boehner in the race. Blunt is the apparent front runner, claiming that as of Jan. 23, 117 colleagues have publicly or privately committed to back him. The winner of the Feb. 2 election will succeed Tom DeLay (Texas), who said Jan. 7 he would step down as majority leader.