LaHood to stay through lame duck — maybe longer

Source: Eugene Mulero, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today he’ll serve through the end of this year and maybe even beyond that.

Speaking with reporters today, his 67th birthday, LaHood didn’t rule out staying at the Department of Transportation for President Obama’s full second term.

“I’ve had one meeting with the president,” LaHood said. “And he’s a little bit busy now, so we’ll get back together probably early next year and continue our discussion.”

Last year, LaHood assured everybody he would step down after one term, even if Obama was re-elected.

The administration’s fiscal cliff proposal includes about $50 billion for infrastructure projects and a disaster aid package for the Superstorm Sandy-battered Northeast expected to be in the $50 billion range, as well. Managing both accounts would require LaHood’s attention, congressional aides say.

As a longtime House member from Illinois, the secretary developed meaningful rapport with a number of lawmakers and Hill staffers, and such expertise raises his prestige with the administration.

If Obama doesn’t ask him to stay or if he steps down voluntarily, it would mark another high-profile Cabinet departure for the president. Secretaries Hillary Rodham Clinton of State, Timothy Geithner of Treasury and Leon Panetta of Defense are not expected back for another term.

Two key lawmakers would welcome another four years of LaHood in the DOT executive suite. Incoming House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) suggested this month he expects to work with LaHood at least during the start of the next Congress.

And Senate Environment and Infrastructure Chairwoman Barbara Boxer said LaHood’s “been great … terrific.”

“Somewhere I read that he was not going to [stay],” the California Democrat said. “But I hope that was incorrect.”

LaHood has garnered favorable feedback among advocates of high-speed rail and energy-efficient technologies since arriving at DOT four years ago. He has been the administration’s point man on authorizing legislative proposals, and he has helped advance an urban modernization agenda that incorporates bicycle access and the creation of open spaces.

LaHood also advocates prominently for safe-driving techniques, launching a nationwide campaign urging motorists not to send text messages while behind the wheel. The administration also has received a degree of favorable feedback from residents affected by Superstorm Sandy. For its part, DOT has provided the region about $59 million for emergency repairs.