NTSB's Hersman a possible contender to lead DOT

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/4/2013

The question of who will lead the U.S. DOT after Secretary Ray LaHood officially steps aside remains still up in the air, but one name that continues to surface on speculative short lists is Deborah Hersman, current chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Hersman received a glowing endorsement last week from U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. On his Twitter site, Rockefeller said Jan. 30 that Hersman has the experience to be a “terrific” secretary, and would make safety and infrastructure investment her priorities.

Photo credit: National Transportation Safety Board

Hersman served the Commerce Committee for 12 years before ascending to the NTSB leadership role.

She’s been outspoken in favor of electronic on-board recorders, collision avoidance systems and speed limiters for motor carries and coaches. She has also criticized the effectiveness of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program that tracks and scores safety ratings for motor carriers.

But while the NTSB investigates high-profile fatal crashes and provides safety recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other transportation agencies, the NTSB itself does not have the power to regulate.

Truckers may be familiar with Hersman on a more personal level. She rode with truckers en route to the 2011 Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, where she was a featured speaker for events held by Women in Trucking and the Truck Writers of North America.

Hersman holds a CDL with passenger, school bus and air brake endorsements, and she has a motorcycle license as well.

She is not alone on people’s lists of contenders to lead the DOT.

Media reports have also mentioned former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; former Washington state Gov. Christine Gregoire; former U.S. Rep. and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-MN; retired U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-OH; retired U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX; and current Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa among possible contenders. Even Anne Ferro, the FMCSA administrator, has been mentioned.

It’s possible that the next DOT secretary has not been mentioned on anyone’s short list at this point. Prior to President Obama’s appointment of Ray LaHood in 2009, the outspoken former congressman from Illinois was not on very many people’s radar of likely candidates.

In the end, the only list that matters belongs to the White House, and at this point that list is still a secret.

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