Congressional Activity

Congress, NHTSA, and Outside Organizations Continue to Evaluate DOT’s Automated Vehicles Policy

Congress continues its oversight of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Automated Vehicles policy, and a House Committee Roundtable is scheduled for this Tuesday, December 6.  Many Members of Congress have lauded the expected benefits of automated vehicles on the economy and the safety of the nation’s roadways.  However, there has been concern among the industry that State or Federal regulators may unintentionally stifle innovation in the nascent industry with burdensome and conflicting regulations.

For its part, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will hold its second public meeting to receive oral comments from the public regarding the Automated Vehicles policy on December 12.  Additionally, the Brookings Institution will hold an event on December 5, titled “Transforming transportation with autonomous vehicles and the sharing economy: Are we ready?”.

Regulatory Activity

President-Elect Trump Selects Elaine Chao as DOT Secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Elain Chao to serve as his DOT Secretary.  Elaine Chao previously served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, Deputy Secretary at DOT under President George H. W. Bush, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, Maritime Administration Deputy Administrator under President Reagan, and a White House Fellow at DOT under President Reagan.  Because of her experience in these positions, she has a broad and deep understanding of DOT and its various programs.

Many Members of Congress issued positive statements following the announcement that President-elect Trump was planning to nominate her as DOT Secretary, as she will bring considerable substantive transportation knowledge and experience overseeing large organizations to bear as DOT Secretary.  Elaine Chao will likely be initially tasked with moving a major infrastructure proposal through Congress, which President-elect Trump has identified as a priority, and a number of Democrats have said they look forward to working with her on the issue. We expect she will enjoy easy confirmation by the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is Elaine Chao’s husband, said in a statement: “I am so proud of Elaine as she continues her accomplished career in public service.  I am confident she will do an outstanding job for the nation in this new and important role.”

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) responded to the selection by reiterating his commitment to working with the Trump Administration if the President-Elect is “serious about a major infrastructure bill, backed by real dollars and not just tax credits and without cutting other programs like health care and education.”  Senator Schumer also said he “hope[s] Secretary Chao shares that ambitious goal and is willing to work with Democrats to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of good paying jobs along the way.”  Schumer also said he hopes that Chao “will pick up where Secretary Foxx left off and make the timely completion of [the Hudson Tunnel Project] a top priority.”

Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) said “Elaine Chao is an outstanding choice to serve as the next Secretary of Transportation. She is a conservative reformer with unrivaled experience and a great passion for improving the lives of working families.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) praised the selection of Chao, noting that it was his “hope that President-elect Trump would select someone to run the Department of Transportation who has a background leading large organizations, knowledge of how Congress and the legislative process work, and the right mixture of public and private experience necessary to oversee a bold agenda to transform America’s transportation and infrastructure systems for the 21st Century,” noting that “Elaine Chao embodies these qualities.”  Chairman Shuster talked with Chao after the announcement of her selection, but said the discussion “was just pleasantries,” noting they have “a long way to go to figure out the policies.”

Current Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx also had positive comments on Chao’s selection, issuing a statement that said: “Elaine Chao knows the Department of Transportation well, having previously served as its deputy secretary.  She’s also one of the nicest people I’ve met in Washington.  I wish her luck in the confirmation process, and in the meantime, we will be working hard to ensure a smooth transition.”

Northern Virginia Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA) said Elaine Chao’s priority should be the WMATA Metrorail system, and said in a statement that he “look[s] forward to working with the new Transportation secretary to secure appropriate federal support for the very transit system that delivers many DOT employees to work each day.”

A number of organizations have also reacted to the selection of Chao, though not all of their statements have been supportive.

Former Secretary of Transportation James Burnley, the current Eno Center for Transportation Board Chairman, said “[t]here is no one in America better qualified to serve as the next Secretary of Transportation than Elaine Chao. We at Eno look forward to working with her during this dynamic period in transportation.”

Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said Chao is “a superb choice,” noting that “the traditional regulatory approach is increasingly challenged to keep pace with the rapid rate of innovation in our sector.”

Peter Welch, President and CEO of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said “Elaine Chao is an excellent choice to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation, and we commend President-elect Donald Trump for nominating someone who will be able to hit the ground running on Day One.”

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Tuesday, December 6, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a meeting titled “Roundtable on the Impact of Autonomous Vehicle Technology on America’s Transportation Systems.” The roundtable participants will be:
    • Blair Anderson, Under Secretary for Policy, United States Department of Transportation;
    • Chris Spear, President and CEO, American Trucking Associations (ATA);
    • David Strickland, Counsel and Spokesperson, Self-driving Coalition for Safer Streets;
    • David Zuby, Executive Vice President and Chief Research Officer, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); and
    • Kevin Acklin, Chief of Staff and Chief Development Officer, City of Pittsburgh.
  • On Tuesday, December 6, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing titled “Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheating Settlement: Questions Concerning ZEV Program Implementation.” The witnesses will be announced.
  • On Wednesday, December 7, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security will hold a hearing titled “Assessing the Security of our Critical Transportation Infrastructure.” The witnesses will be:
    • The Honorable John Roth, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Homeland Security;
    • Chief Neil Trugman, Interim Chief of Police, Amtrak;
    • Chris Spear, President and CEO, American Trucking Association;
    • Tony Straquadine, Manager of Commercial and Government Affairs, Alliance Pipeline; Representative, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America; and
    • Tom Belfiore, Chief Security Officer, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.