Every president of the United States faces the task of building out their administration. To do so, presidents face the daunting task of filling roughly 4,000 politically appointed positions in the executive branch and independent agencies, including more than 1,200 that require Senate confirmation.
Obviously, a president does not come into office with a Rolodex filled with thousands of people who are qualified, available and eager to serve in a demanding role that may last only four years. Presidents usually only focus their attention on the high level Cabinet positions. For the remainder, the president relies on recommendations, coupled with a thorough background screening by the White House Presidential Personnel Office and the FBI.
Recently, President Biden nominated Meera Joshi to become the next administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). She awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Joshi currently serves as the FMCSA deputy administrator, a position which does not require confirmation.
So, what are the qualifications of an FMCSA administrator? Is the president looking for a “subject matter expert;” someone with direct experience in the safety regulation of commercial trucks and buses? Is this simply a political appointment, the nominee chosen from the ranks of the president’s party?
The answer is typically a bit of both… but a whole lot more. Administrators at FMCSA began with Joe Clapp, retired chairman of trucking company Roadway Express. Past administrators have included persons with hands-on and executive level commercial vehicle law enforcement experience – such as Annette Sandberg and John Hill – or with the licensing and motor vehicle administration of trucks and buses – such as Ray Martinez and Anne Ferro.
And while presidential nominees are not required to swear an oath of political allegiance, nominees usually have the same political persuasion as the president. One recent exception is President George W. Bush nominated Norman Mineta, a Democratic congressman, who headed the U.S. Department of Transportation from January 2001 through August 2006.
Beyond political alignment with the president, the list of qualifications to head the FMCSA, or any federal regulatory agency, is long and calls for a person who:
- Understands the regulatory process. The FMCSA administrator occupies a position that is both political and procedural… just as the manner in which regulations become law is both political and procedural.
- Has worked with or within the government. Government agencies are directly responsible to elected officials and ultimately to the public. It is a fundamentally different orientation than private enterprise.
- May be a boss. The FMCSA administrator oversees the agency staff, both in D.C. and in regional offices across the country.
- May have a boss. The FMCSA administrator reports directly to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) secretary, and ultimately to the president. He or she will be expected to follow decisions made from above.
- Is a team player. Within the USDOT itself, the FMCSA administrator will work daily with other agency heads, such as the administrators at National Highway Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, whose agencies have differing congressional charters.
The Senate will determine if Meera Joshi meets those qualifications. During the confirmation process Senators will look at her background, ask questions, and ultimately make that decision.
Whoever does become the next FMCSA administrator, they will not handle the task alone. A broad range of professionals and organizations work with the head of the agency:
- Experienced career staff at FMCSA work with the administrator daily.
- Organizations like the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, American Trucking Associations, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, and others contribute critical insights from law enforcement and the trucking industry.
- The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee which includes industry, labor and driver representatives directly advises the administrator.
Most important, the next FMCSA administrator will look to your comments on proposed regulations for the guidance needed to improve highway safety.