The early days of the transition to a new administration in Washington have been filled with more questions than answers for construction industry officials. They’re anxiously watching for signs of whom president-elect Barack Obama will select for Cabinet posts. They also are wondering whether Congress will pass a new economic stimulus bill that has money for public works—and whether the White House will accept it.

Obama wants a bill sooner rather than later.
AP / Wideworld
Obama wants a bill sooner rather than later.

Obama has named his chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, and announced a team of advisors, including such Clinton administration veterans as former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner and former Transportation and Energy Secretary Federico Peña. But there was no news on Cabinet picks at press time.

Construction is especially seeking hints about a new chief for the Dept. of Transportation. Names circulating in the rumor mill for DOT secretary include House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and two other members of that committee, Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jerry Costello (D-Ill.). Also being mentioned are Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine; Jane Garvey, former head of the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Aviation Administration; and Steve Heminger, executive director of the San Francisco Bay area Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Those possible candidates constitute an experienced group. “The learning curve with a lot of these people is going to be low,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs. “They understand the problems and they understand how to get things done.”

While watching for Cabinet news, industry officials also want Congress to act in the lame-duck session, starting Nov. 17, on a stimulus bill that has infrastructure funds. But the White House has been critical of including public-works aid. “Infrastructure spending is never an effective means to create rapid stimulus,” the Office of Management and Budget said on Sept. 26. Brian Pallasch, American Society of Civil Engineers managing director for government relations, says, “We’re not lacking for ready-to-go projects. We need to convince the White House that this is the right thing to do.”

Obama’s views on a stimulus are clear. “I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later,” he said on Nov. 7. “If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as President of the United States.”