The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently heard from and questioned President George W. Bush's nominee of Mary Peters to be U.S. Secretary of Transportation, but deferred a vote as a courtesy to absent committee members.
Peters served for four years as Federal Highway Administrator and previously was Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation. Most of the panel members who attended the session were highly complimentary of Peters, using their time for remarks and questions during the hour-long hearing and urging her to dig more deeply into issues of concern to them in their home states.
"There's an openness, a sense of transparency about you," said Sen. David Rockefeller (D-W.V.). "I think you're going to be terrific."
If Peters is confirmed for the presidential cabinet post, she will succeed Norman Mineta, who stepped down from the job in July after serving since the start of the Bush Administration. The department has about 60,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $60 billion. The department has been headed by Acting Secretary Maria Cino in the interim.
After being introduced by the senators from her home state--Arizona Republicans Jon Kyl and John McCain--Peters stressed her commitment to safety and to finding new approaches to the nation's pressing transportation needs in her opening statement.
"Our vital infrastructure is showing signs of aging," she said, adding that traditional approaches may no longer be able to keep up with demand for that infrastructure.
Though there has been much investment and research to date, and progress in meeting the nation's transportation needs, "safety and security are of greater concern than ever before," Peters said. "I do not take lightly the challenges."
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) urged Peters to press for a greater role on the executive-branch agenda for transportation issues, saying transportation has almost as much leverage as defense work in job creation.
Other members of the panel asked Peters about such issues as continuing access to rural air service and Amtrak passenger rail in the interior of the country; about the pending reauthorization of the federal aviation programs; about the Surface Transportation Board's role in keeping freight rates affordable for those who ship products and commodities; and about the U.S. DOT commitment to transit and other non-highway transportation.
After Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) asked Peters, an avid motorcyclist, if she always wore a helmet and she replied, "I never ride without a helmet." Committee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) joked that the presence of other motorcycle fans within the White House staff might explain why her nomination "moved so quickly."