Elaine Chao, soon to be the 18th U.S. States Secretary of Transportation, pending confirmation, outlined her top priorities and challenges for her new role. Chao filled out a questionnaire (PDF) for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation that was released to the public Dec. 20. In it are some clues about how she will lead the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Citing her tenure as the Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, Chao said that her goal is to “cultivate a collaborative and open management environment.” This starts with the department fulfilling its responsibility to “identify, recruit and hire the best people possible.”
One question asked directly about the top three challenges the department will face while Chao is at the helm of the agency.
1. Good Stewardship
Chao lists her top priority for the new administration as responsible planning and management of resources. This includes several actions:
Effective enforcement of safety measures;
Maximizing the return of investment for department expenditures through an improved procurement process; and
Fully understanding the potential benefits and challenges that are associated with new technologies in our infrastructure
2. Expediting Critical Infrastructure Construction Projects
President-elect Donald Trump campaigned vigorously on improving America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Chao will be charged with installing his purported $1 trillion infrastructure proposal (PDF), which according to a Washington Post analysis, “doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports. … Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects.“
Chao also indicated that construction projects will need to be approved, “with or without a new infusion of funds. …” This line suggests that she may have to find a workaround if Congress is unable to approve an infrastructure spending package. One strategy offered by Chao would be discovering ways to "expedite the process of making repairs" and "decreasing the regulatory burdens."
3. Reducing Inequity Between Urban and Rural Transportation
Her last priority for the agency is to “strive for equity between urban and rural areas, among different modes of transportation.” Cities are referred to as transportation innovation centers for their ability to test car-sharing programs and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Chao will work on making sure less-populated areas will be able to share in the benefit of technology innovation.