The Senate has moved quickly, in most cases, to approve President Barack Obama’s nominees to Cabinet posts, including his choices to lead departments that oversee major construction programs, such as transportation and energy. Industry officials now will focus on whom Obama will pick for sub-Cabinet positions, including deputy and assistant secretaries.

Confirmation has come quickly for most nominees.
Photo: AP/Wideworld
Confirmation has come quickly for most nominees.

Among a group of nominees confirmed on Jan. 22 was former Illinois congressman Ray LaHood, a Republican, as transportation secretary. LaHood was approved the day after his confirmation hearing before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

During the hearing, LaHood outlined his priorities, with transportation safety leading the list. He also cited the need to boost the ailing economy and said the stimulus legislation pending in Congress “responds directly to that need.” He added, “Transportation is a big part of that plan, and one of my first tasks...will be to manage the open and effective use of those funds.”

LaHood, who was on the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Appropriations committees, said public-works spending should have a longer-term focus, too, adding that he will support funding “to help bring the country’s transportation assets up to a state of excellent repair.” He also favors going beyond repairs to include new projects.

As commerce committee members noted, major transportation bills are on tap this year on Capitol Hill. First up will be a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Congress was unable to reach agreement last year on a multiyear FAA bill, and the agency’s programs, including its Airport Improvement Program construction grants, have been operating since last fall under a series of extensions. Action is needed soon: The current stopgap lapses on April 1.

The much larger bill on the agenda is a new long-term surface transportation reauthorization. The current measure, SAFETEA-LU, expires on Sept. 30. With Highway Trust Fund revenue under pressure, many have called for revamping the way highways and transit are financed. The commerce committee’s top Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), said the trust fund, the prime federal highway funding source since the 1950s, “does not meet today’s test of relevance.” She said donor states like Texas “need some relief from the huge amounts that we send to Washington and never get back.”

Asked about toll roads, LaHood said, “I think one of our big challenges is to find ways to ‘plus-up’ the trust fund” by adding new revenue. He expressed support for having tolls pay for a share of the cost of new highway lanes or roadways, but said putting tolls on existing highways “is not a good idea.”

The Senate on Jan. 22 also confirmed Lisa Jackson to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Although Jackson was considered non-controversial, Republican John Barrasso (Wyo.) initially had threatened to hold up the nominee’s confirmation until he could get a better understanding of the role Carol Browner would play in the newly created role of energy czar. During Jackson’s Jan. 14 confirmation hearing, Barrasso asked whether Jackson would have the authority to make agency decisions on her own. Barrasso subsequently agreed not to delay Jackson’s confirmation vote after discussions with Jackson and Browner.

The Cabinet Takes Shape
Name Department/Agency Date Confirmed
Thomas Vilsack Agriculture Jan. 20
Steven Chu Energy Jan. 20
Ken Salazar Interior Jan. 20
Janet Napolitano Homeland Security Jan. 20
Eric Shinseki VA Jan. 20
Hillary Clinton State Jan. 21
Shaun Donovan HUD Jan. 22
Ray LaHood Transportation Jan. 22
Lisa Jackson EPA Jan. 22
Timothy Geithner Treasury Jan. 26


At Jackson’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who knows Jackson from her previous state positions in New Jersey, called her “eminently qualified” and said “she is praised and respected on both sides of the aisle because she has been willing to work with both sides of the aisle and has not only been responsible, but responsive.”

Jackson said she wants to restore “scientific integrity and the rule of law” to EPA, with “unparalleled transparency and openness.” Top priorities will include revisiting Bush administration regulations like the Clean Air Interstate Rule, Clean Air Mercury Rule and EPA’s current position on climate change. Jackson said all of EPA’s rules would be subject to review and possible revision.