Obama picks Maryland's transportation secretary for No. 2 job in federal agency

April 11, 2009|By Michael Dresser and Paul West | Michael Dresser and Paul West,michael.dresser@baltsun.com and paul.west@baltsun.com

President Barack Obama turned to Maryland for another high-level appointment Friday as the White House announced that he intends to name Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari to the No. 2 position in the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In choosing Porcari, Obama has selected one of the few state transportation secretaries whose portfolio includes all the major modes of travel - highways, aviation, mass transit, maritime commerce and rail freight. If he clears the required background checks and is confirmed by the Senate, Porcari would serve as deputy to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Illinois congressman and a Republican.

Porcari, 50, would become the second member of Gov. Martin O'Malley's Cabinet to be chosen for a key position in the Obama administration. The president earlier nominated Thomas E. Perez, Maryland's secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. Obama also selected Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein as principal deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Porcari would bring with him a thorough knowledge of the transportation issues that affect Maryland and the region, and a reputation for addressing environmental concerns associated with large-scale projects.

"Just like Obama and LaHood are not going to ignore the needs of Illinois, John wouldn't ignore the needs of Maryland, the greater Washington D.C. area and the East," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

"He will be aware of what is needed here," Horsley said, adding that Porcari would assuredly serve as an honest broker in the competition for scarce resources.

Porcari also has grappled with funding shortfalls - a pressing issue at both the federal and state levels.

In recent months he has had to make a stream of unpleasant choices as the state's transportation revenues have dried up as a result of the national economic downturn. More recently, he has received national attention for his efforts to put federal stimulus money to use quickly by emphasizing small, ready-to-go maintenance projects.

Horsley described Porcari as "very thoughtful but tough" and said the Marylander would fill the role of chief operating officer of the department, which has a $70 billion budget and 60,000 employees.

O'Malley released a statement congratulating Porcari on his nomination.

"John has served the people of Maryland as secretary of transportation during an unprecedented time of growth and reinvestment in our state's infrastructure, including the beginning stages of the Inter-County Connector, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project, and over $1 billion in recovery and reinvestment projects throughout Maryland," the statement said. "John's leadership as an advocate for infrastructure investment impacts the lives of all Marylanders as they travel on resurfaced highways, restored bridges, or new hybrid buses."

Porcari, who served a term as transportation secretary under Gov. Parris N. Glendening from 1999 to 2002 before returning to the post under O'Malley, has been known as a cool, affable administrator with a knack for working with legislators of both parties.

Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Friday that Porcari "has been one of the best secretaries of any agency since I've been in public office."

"It's a huge loss to the state of Maryland, but it reflects the kind of quality people that the Obama administration is attracting to the federal agencies," said Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat first elected in 1987.

Del. Norman H. Conway, a Wicomico County Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he's sorry to see Porcari leave state service.

"You can pretty well rely on whatever he tells you. He has been a tremendous leader for the department and for the state," Conway said.

Porcari said Friday that the nomination has been in the works for several weeks. He said he expects none of the tax problems that have complicated the confirmation of some other Obama nominees.

"It sure pays to lead a straightforward, boring life," he said.

Porcari said he has met with LaHood and looks forward to assisting him with "a very full and ambitious agenda." He would be coming aboard at a time when the Obama administration faces the task of winning passage of legislation funding the nation's transportation program for the next six years. The current authorization bill expires this year amid concerns that the federal gas tax is no longer raising enough revenue to keep the highway trust from the brink of insolvency.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.