University News

Q&A with Ray LaHood

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2012

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood spoke about his 35 years in public service and his time in Obama’s cabinet in Salomon 101 yesterday. After the talk, he sat down with The Herald.

The Herald: You’ve been instrumental in airline travel and passenger rights. Is that a typical way that you see yourself and future transportation secretaries spending their time?

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood:  As a secretary, we set priorities. One of our priorities is to make sure that when people pay a lot of money for an airline ticket that they get the services that they believe that they’re entitled to, which means they get from one place to another safely, that they’re treated with respect and that there’s good service. The reason that we came out with our so-called Passenger Bill of Rights is because people were sitting on tarmacs for too long, without water, without food, with broken restrooms, and they … were in enclosed airplanes with no opportunity to really get off these planes. It happened more often than not, and we thought we really needed to address it. We felt we really needed to make sure that we said to passengers, ‘We know you paid hard-earned money. We want to make sure you get to where you’re going safely, but we also want to make sure you’re treated with respect.’ That’s what those rules were about.

Today and on other occasions you have called the House’s transportation bill the worst bill you have ever seen in 35 years. Considering that feeling you have expressed about the bill, the stalemate that occurred with the House bill and even the difficulties with the Senate bill, how do you see yourself and the administration getting a transportation bill passed during Obama’s presidency?

Look, we have to work with Congress. Congress passes the bills. I’ve also said that the bill that was put together in the Senate is a very good bipartisan bill. It’s a bill that was put together in a way that reflects good transportation values, a way to put people to work, a way to get transportation projects funded, so we have our fingers crossed that the Senate will do well by their bill and that the House will take another look and put together a more comprehensive approach to transportation.

I understand that you were able to see some transportation and infrastructure initiatives in Rhode Island earlier today.

Yeah, we went to a bridge that’s in very bad repair, and we made a commitment to the governor and the mayor and some other legislative leaders that we would help them find some resources to fix the bridge up.

Do you think there’s a role that Brown as a university can play in helping the Rhode Island community with such projects?

I think in the instances where universities can be helpful is where they have transportation research programs. And we fund transportation research programs, and that’s the way that universities have been helpful to us.

As job creation has become a major priority in the current administration, has the role of the Department of Transportation shifted?

Well, transportation and the transportation bill has always been about jobs. If the Congress passes a transportation bill, it will create jobs. It will create jobs building the roads and bridges, the runways, the transit systems. Transportation is a way to put America back to work. Passing a transportation bill would put thousands of people to work in America. That’s why the president  pushed it in his state of the union, that’s why the president pushed it in the American Jobs Act, that’s why the president has pushed it in his budget, because it will put Americans to work.

As a Republican working in the cabinet of a Democrat, what has been both your greatest frustration and your greatest satisfaction from a personal standpoint?

I think it’s always frustrating trying to get big things done. We do a lot of big things at DOT, and it has nothing to do with politics or Republican or Democrat. It has more to do with trying to move government and move people in a direction to really get things done. We’ve had a lot of success with the president’s vision for high-speed rail. We’ve invested more than $10 billion. We’ve had a lot of success with the economic stimulus program where we had $48 billion and created 65,000 jobs with 15,000 projects. We did it in two years without any earmarks or any controversy, so we’ve had some success with the programs that Congress has given us.


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