From: Jonathan Adkins
Sent: January 24, 2017
Subject: Washington News
There have been a number of happenings in D.C. of interest to the highway safety community.
During his inaugural address, President Trump stated, “We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation…We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.”
President Trump’s campaign has long been floating the idea of spending up to a “trillion” dollars to upgrade America’s infrastructure. However, the specifics of the plan remain hazy, and it’s unclear whether Congress will see eye-to-eye. Further, Congressional Republicans have indicated other immediate priorities in the new Congress. Sensing the divide between the President and Congressional Republicans, Democrats have submitted their own infrastructure spending plan.
We will be monitoring the renewed emphasis on Buy American, which could present new challenges for SHSOs. Given the tone in D.C., SHSOs will want to make every effort to avoid requests for Buy American exemptions.
On Friday night, the White House sent a memo to all federal agencies and departments ordering "an immediate regulatory freeze" until further notice, so the Administration’s political appointees can review pending rules. The still-pending final rule on the Uniform Procedures for State Highway Safety Grant Programs (the IFR) is among the regulations covered by the freeze. Under the White House policy, there is an avenue to seek exceptions to the freeze. We are learning more about this new development and potential options.
Such regulatory freezes by new Presidents are common. With Elaine Chao expected to be confirmed as USDOT Secretary this week, she could quickly address the IFR and other outstanding USDOT rules. However, this is a developing situation, and we’re watching the approach to pending rules taken across the federal departments.
We spoke to NHTSA staff last week, and regardless of the freeze, they were still working to finalize changes to the regulations based on all the feedback they’ve gathered.
Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order imposing a federal hiring freeze, continuing the high-level strategy to shrink the federal workforce.
Elaine Chao’s Transportation Secretary Confirmation Vote
Today, the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously in favor of Elaine Chao’s nomination. Chao’s nomination is expected to be taken up by the full Senate as early as tomorrow.
With regard to the timing of the appointment of the next NHTSA administrator and other NHTSA positions, we could be in for a longer haul. Each of the last two NHTSA administrators appointed by President Obama were nominated and appointed after nearly a year of vacancy. That said, with Ms. Chao being an experienced Washington insider, she could seek to fill the NHTSA and other DOT modal administrators sooner rather than later.
Appropriations for Highway Safety Programs
Rather than approve appropriations legislation for FY 2017, Congress last year passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the U.S. Government (and NHTSA’s Highway Safety Program) at approximate 2016 levels through April 28. Congress will have to decide whether to take late action an actual appropriations package or just approve another CR for the remainder of the budget year.
Meanwhile, yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its annual budget projections, officially kicking off the FY 2018 appropriations season. The President’s budget request in the coming months is expected to propose dramatic cuts across the board, including to transportation programs. However, as with infrastructure, Congress will likely have its own ideas about future funding. GHSA will be vigilant to ensure highway safety funding remains consistent.
Please let Russ Martin or me know if you have questions or comments.
Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)
202-789-0942, ext. 130