In a surprising announcement, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is leaving his post, effective July 7. Mineta had submitted his resignation to President Bush June 20, but the announcement of Mineta's departure came on June 23.

In his letter to Bush, Mineta said that after heading the Dept. of Transportation for more than five years, "it is time for me to move on to other challenges."

Robert Johnson, a DOT spokesman, says that Mineta hasn't announced what he will do beyond July 7. "He expects to make some decisions fairly soon after leaving," Johnson says. He declined to say whether Mineta has a job offer, but adds, "If you know one thing about Norm Mineta, you know he always has a plan."

Mineta will be leaving the department only two weeks from the date his departure was announced. Johnson says, "I think he believes the timing is right, based on his future plans and the desire to give the administration as much time as possible to recruit and put a [successor] in place."

Mineta was not asked to resign, Johnson says. "This is absolutely, 100% Norm Mineta's decision."

At DOT, a major development during Mineta's tenure was the enactment last August of a multi-year highway and transit authorization bill,the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). When 2004 funding is included, the measure  provides $286.5 billion through fiscal 2009 for roads and transit, up more than 30% from its predecessor bill.

The 74-year-old Mineta, the sole Democrat in Bush's Cabinet, has had a long career in government and is widely respected for his extensive experience in transportation. He was Commerce Secretary in 2000-2001, during the Clinton administration, but is better known for his 20-year tenure starting in 1975, as a House member from California. During his House years, he made his mark in what was then called the Public Works and Transportation Committee, where he rose to be chairman from 1992 to 1994.

Before his election to Congress, Mineta was mayor of San Jose, Calif.

Reached shortly after the news broke, Pete Ruane, CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, who has known Mineta for many years, said he was "very surprised" by the resignation. There have been other changes in senior Bush administration positions in recent weeks, including the move of Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten to be White House chief of staff and the resignation of Treasury Secretary John Snow and nomination of Harold Paulson of Goldman Sachs to replace him.

But ARTBA's Ruane says, "We have heard nothing but  positive things" about Mineta, and adds that he's not aware of any major policy differences between the DOT chief and other administration officials. Ruane calls Mineta "an outstanding public servant and in my opinion a role model for any elected or appointed political leader in the country for years to come."