The Trump administration’s Infrastructure Week was last week, of course, but since it didn’t feature the rollout of an actual infrastructure plan, I thought I might look into the question of who Trump has working on transportation issues.
The good news over at DOT is that the secretary, Elaine Chao, is just about the most experienced and well-qualified person working on domestic issues anywhere in the Trump administration. And it’s noteworthy that there have, so far, been no scandals or shocking examples of incompetence or wild dishonesty coming out of her shop.
But when you delve down to the assistant secretary level things start to look pretty bleak.
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This is not a national crisis. The country can persist with these vacancies — there’s a competent career staff in place — but it’s not great for an agency’s effectiveness to not have Senate-confirmed leadership in place. And it’s not really possible to formulate an exciting new agenda for American transportation without putting a leadership team together at the Transportation Department. If you try to just cook something up at the White House, you’ll end up doing it without the input of experts who know in detail how the current system works. Which is probably why all Trump’s Infrastructure Week amounted to was an endorsement of an Air Traffic Control bill that’s been kicking around the House for years.
It’s also a sign of how little credence you should give to Trump’s complaints of Democratic Party obstruction.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill. Democrats agree in it principle and have the outline of a plan. Trump has neither an outline nor a team to help him write one. And as Vox’s Jim Tankersley writes, the same is true across the board. On the big problems Trump promised to fix he’s just not doing anything, and “his failure to deliver even somewhat detailed plans to solve problems — let alone actually solve them — is as much a cloud over his presidency as any FBI investigation.”