While almost every cabinet department and a host of federal agencies within the executive branch touch freight and supply chains in some way, these 10 recent appointees by President Joe Biden will likely figure most prominently in steering freight transportation policy as Biden’s administration gets underway. The list is in alphabetical order by last name.
Pete Buttigieg, secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
Background: Buttigieg began campaigning for Biden almost immediately after dropping out of the presidential race in early 2020 and given the endorsement power of the popular former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, it was not a surprise he was rewarded with a cabinet post. Most would not have guessed, however, that DOT would have been Buttigieg’s landing spot given his lack of experience with major infrastructure projects. Then again, hands-on experience has not traditionally been a prerequisite for many top cabinet positions.
Why he matters for freight: After four years of much talk but no action during the Trump administration, there is pent-up desire on both sides of the political aisle to get a bipartisan, long-term infrastructure bill across the finish line within the next two years.
As DOT secretary, Buttigieg will be a driving force behind Biden’s $1.3 trillion infrastructure plan that the president laid out informally last year and that is expected to be the administration’s blueprint. Policies addressing climate change, civil rights and equity are linked with transportation policy like never before and align almost in lockstep with Buttigieg’s philosophy.
Within the trucking sector, Buttigieg left open the possibility during his confirmation hearing of revisiting hours-of-service regulations, rolling back federal preemption of state meal and rest break laws, and taking a closer look at whether to allow more flexibility in sleeper berth split-time provisions.
Steve Cliff, deputy administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Background: For the past 12 years, Cliff served in technical and leadership roles in state government at the influential California Air Resources Board (CARB) and at the California Department of Transportation. As a former deputy executive officer of CARB, Cliff oversaw environmental vehicle regulations that included heavy-duty engine emissions.
Why he matters for freight: In addition to supporting Biden’s electric-vehicle policy goals – which includes heavy trucks – Cliff will be the keeper of the administration’s vehicle safety statistics on large-truck crashes. Those statistics are often used by safety groups as evidence that regulatory changes meant to ease industry cost burdens are unsafe. Cliff will be tasked with enforcing vehicle performance standards to reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses from large-truck crashes.