Pete Buttigieg, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of transportation, offered senators his broad vision Thursday regarding how the department will play a central role in revamping the nation’s infrastructure and economy.
The former South Bend Mayor and one-time presidential candidate told the Senate Commerce Committee the Transportation Department is uniquely positioned to address the current confluence of challenges facing America—a global pandemic, economic downtown and racial inequality.
“So much is at stake today—and so much is possible, as our country works to emerge from the crises of the moment, with bipartisan appetite for a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure,” Buttigieg said. “We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this, by implementing President Biden’s infrastructure vision—creating millions of good-paying jobs, revitalizing communities that have been left behind, enabling American small businesses, workers, families and farmers to compete and win in the global economy, and tackling the climate crisis.”
If confirmed, Buttigieg would oversee a vast department comprised of more than 55,000 employees and an annual budget of close to $90 billion. Transportation’s mission involves the oversight and safety of everything from thousands of miles of pipelines and railways and countless jet planes to the allocation of billions of dollars in highway construction funds. The department is also taking an increasingly larger role in various emerging technologies, including electric and driverless vehicles.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., hinted that Senate-led legislation on driverless vehicles was imminent, and sought commitments from Buttigieg that—if confirmed—Transportation would “help inform our legislation providing for safe testing, as well as for the deployment of highly-automated vehicles.”
“American companies should be leading the way to producing electric vehicles,” Buttigieg said, noting that Biden’s economic plan calls for the deployment of half a million electric charging stations nationwide. In his remarks, Buttigieg stressed the nationwide equality regarding jobs and opportunities a wide-scale infrastructure plan might offer, and vowed to ensure all Americans benefit equally.
“I believe that good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs. But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality, by dividing or isolating neighborhoods and undermining government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive,” he said.
Buttigieg addressed some Republican concerns—including privacy concerns from Utah’s Mike Lee surrounding drones—by suggesting regulatory measures must keep pace with emerging technologies.
“Technology is being developed, industry is advancing, and we have to make sure” the regulatory system keeps up, Buttigieg said.
During the course of the hearing, Buttigieg received a half-dozen requests to tour various senators’ states, and his performance was lauded by committee members on both sides of the political aisle.
“You have put on a clinic on how a nominee should work and act,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “You haven’t avoided the questions. You’ve been straightforward. And you know what the hell you’re talking about. And that’s pretty damn refreshing.”