Washington, D.C. — Washington aviation association heads were swift to offer congratulations to Mary Peters for her nomination to the cabinet post of Secretary of Transportation even though the nominee is an advocate of user fees.
Such polite courtesies, however, are normal as those dealing with government officials want to get off on a friendly start before it becomes necessary to bring out the brickbats.
Peters headed the National Highway Administration from 2001 to 2005. Since last November she has been national director for transportation policy and consulting in the Phoenix office of an Omaha-based company, HDR, Inc., an architectural, engineering, and consulting firm.
Although polite, comments from aviation executives were short on praise.
Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), rushed out a statement on the afternoon President Bush made the announcement. “”We look forward to having the same great working relationship on aviation issues that we had with Mr. Mineta,”” Bunce said, referring to Norman Mineta, who resigned earlier this year.
Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), welcomed the nomination with these words: “”I look forward to working with her and ensuring that she is fully aware of the concerns of business aviation.””
At the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), President Tom Poberezny said his association was “”looking forward to working with her and her staff on important issues that will affect not only EAA members but all aviation.””
Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), said he intended to be one of the first through the doors to her office to “”start her education on general aviation.””
James May, president and CEO of the airlines’ Air Transport Association (ATA), declared he is eager to “”work closely with the secretary on the pending reauthorization of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund.””
If approved by the Senate, Peters will replace Mineta, who resigned in July. Mineta was the only Democrat in Bush’s cabinet and served longer than any other Secretary of Transportation. He had 20 years of aviation experience as a representative from California and served on the Transportation Committees in the House of Representatives, including the position of chairman. Peters is not entirely without aviation experience. Prior to her national role, she was director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, which oversees highways and aviation. Prior to her appointment to head the department, she spent 12 years working her way up in the organization.
While heading the National Highway Administration she advocated more involvement by the private sector in financing, building, maintaining and operating the transportation infrastructure. At the announcement of her nomination to DOT, Peters declared the nation’s transportation systems “”are showing signs of aging.”” Commenting that there is increasing congestion on the highways, at airports and seaports, she said “”in some cases this is the result of systems and structures that are more suited to a bygone era than to the 21st century.””
In a speech delivered in October 2004, Peters said traditional means of financing highways are outmoded. “”Gas tax is no longer an adequate proxy for the costs imposed by drivers on the system.”” In at least two speeches, she advocated more public-private partnerships, which could indicate favoring privatization. Peters is expected to become a strong advocate for restructuring the nation’s entire transportation infrastructure, a route followed by most office holders who want to revamp an organization to leave their mark. If confirmed, Peters will be the second woman to hold the position. Elizabeth Dole served as transportation secretary for five years, starting in 1983.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.