Shailen Bhatt, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Highway Administration—and former head of two state departments of transportation—is moving nearer to confirmation, with a key Senate committee’s approval for the post.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Nov. 29 cleared Bhatt’s nomination by a voice vote, apparently unanimously. 

The next step is a vote by the full Senate. Judging by the committee's strong bipartisan vote, Bhatt seems on the path to confirmation. If confirmed, he would face the daunting task of continuing to roll out the funding and implementing the programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

FHWA is responsible for about $350 billion of the IIJA's $1.2-trillion total.

An 'Almost Perfect Resume'

Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) said before the vote that the nominee “brings with him an almost perfect resume,” noting his state experience, which includes leading the Delaware and Colorado DOTs.

Bhatt also was an associate administrator at FHWA in the Obama administration and later was president and chief executive officer of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. Most recently, he has been a senior vice president with engineering giant AECOM. 

During Bhatt's confirmation hearing in September before the same committee, Bhatt faced tough questioning from Republicans on the panel, especially its top GOP member, Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.).

During that September hearing, Capito said she has "a great deal of concern" that FHWA "is outright neglecting to implement certain provisions of the bill, mainly the project delivery actions."

Capito also continued to criticize a December 2021 guidance document concerning how states should use the IIJA's formula funding for highways.

At the committee's voting session, Capito said that Bhatt committed to implement the IIJA project delivery provisions and to implement the statute "as we enacted it."

She said she supported Bhatt's nomination "because of those commitments and his record of getting things done and projects that he has built as a past leader for multiple state departments of transportation."

Tie Vote on EPA Nominee

The committee deadlocked, 10-10, on another Biden nominee, Joseph Goffman, the president’s choice to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator for air and radiation.

Looking ahead, a committee aide said that before bringing Goffman's nomination up for the full Senate's consideration, the Senate majority leader must make a motion to discharge the Environment and Public Works Committee from further consideration of the nomination.

Carper voted for Goffman and said he "has demonstrated a clear commitment to following [environmental] law in a way to provide a cleaner and safer climate for all, while also providing predictability and certainty for industry."

Republicans lined up solidly against Goffman’s nomination. Since January 2021, Goffman has been working at EPA as the agency’s principal deputy assistant administrator for air and radiation, a non-Senate confirmable position.  

Capito said that Goffman, “continues to implement policies designed to force closures of baseload power plants through a suite of policies.”