EDITORIAL: Earning a K grade

President swings and misses with U.S. DOT chief pick

May 06, 2013

"They pitch from the stretch! I just don’t understand it!”

My wife was about to dump the half-eaten bowl of Lucky Charms on my head by now, and it probably would have done me some good. After all, I was still hot over my 7-year-old son’s season-opening baseball game 48 hours earlier, and a dairy drenching might have been necessary on this Monday morning. Another wake-up jolt to my system would have been useful, too. She refrained from turning the “magically delicious” into something “tragically devious,” but did have a comeback that was no treat.

“You can either suck it up and just take it, or you can pull your son out of the sport.”

Well, quitting has never been a chapter in my book of life, so all that is left to do is a little tongue swallowing. The act of biting would not do the trick here. I need to be gagging on this organ. If the coaches instructing my son want all of their young arms to throw from the stretch—a more difficult task than the wind-up even at the upper levels—then I was going to have to lodge my taste buds into the back of my throat.

Little did I know, a few hours later the White House tried to pitch something to us that I believe was just a bit of a stretch. On Monday, April 29, a full 672 hours after the Fool’s Day, the Obama administration was selling hard the nomination of Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx for the next transportation secretary. Foxx is a couple of years younger than I, and has been city head for just four years. His résumé as it relates to the transportation industry is comparable to someone one job out of college. He widened a road (actually, Roads & Bridges named the Charlotte Outer Loop project the No. 1 road job in 2012), added a runway at the airport and supported a somewhat controversial trolley system. Apparently, he is a La-Z-Boy recliner to Obama’s livability initiative. He fits right in, if you are going off a little over four years of experience, and calms the call from civil rights groups for Obama to name more minorities to his cabinet. Oh, and he also generated some thunder at the last Democratic National Convention, which, through pure happenstance (wink, wink) was held in Charlotte.

Those who say Foxx has been a legitimate contender for the head of all that travels from the start of Obama’s search are trying to gain credibility in this marketplace the wrong way. This move was pure political, and like the Ray LaHood appointment came from the bottom of a magician’s top hat. The president has something up his sleeve all right, but it is not going to serve the transportation segment very effectively. Industry associations released brief statements after the announcement, all pledging their service to the new chief. The fact that none of them sprinkled sugar on top of the credentials tells me all I need to know about the blandness magnitude of this selection. Why waste the sweet additive (or adjectives) on something that is not going to make a difference?

After venting to one of my transportation lobbyists, his cold, but truthful, response was, “Come on, Bill. You know how this works.” I do know how this works—all too well, because I have been on the job a full 10 years more than Foxx. During my time, the transportation secretary has been just a figurehead of the Oval Office. He works on the other side of the wall, spitting out the rhetorical stance of the president while keeping Congress at an arm’s length. It should not be that way this time, especially with the Highway Trust Fund staring at a zero balance, a crumbling infrastructure piling up and the zero chance—at least for now—a tax or fee will be raised to support the industry.

What we needed here was a change-up from the norm—a change-up with some bite. R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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