Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) will be taking over as Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in January at the start of the 113thCongress, replacing John Mica (R-FL), due to term-limitation rules.
Shuster, who has represented the 9thdistrict of Pennsylvania in Congress since 2001 – the same seat held by his father, Bud Shuster, who also served as T&I Chairman – is a self-professed advocate for strong government oversight of the U.S. transportation system, but also backs efforts to find new ways to fund it.
“Transportation infrastructure is a core function of government,” Shuster said at committee meeting in May, when he served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
“Go back to Adam Smith and he said the three things government should provide citizens are: security, justice, and the erecting of public works to facilitate commerce,” he explained. “Today, however, we face unsustainable deficits and debt so we need to make sure we move forward with transportation [programs] that are paid for in a reasonable way; not by smoke and mirrors.”
Shuster also supports “streamlining” reform efforts to speed up transportation construction timetables while also providing more funding flexibility so states can determine what projects need such monies the most.
“On average it takes 14 to 15 years to build a major highway project in this country; that’s too long,” he said at the May meeting. “States also lack the flexibility to decide the best transportation projects to be funded and we also [at the federal level] put mandates upon them that restrict how they spend that money.”
Shuster presented his home state of Pennsylvania as an example of what he considers to be the error of that approach. “We’ve got 5,000 deficient bridges so it is unconscionable to have to then tell them that they can only spend federal money on bike paths,” he noted.
According to Politico.com, right after being named Chairman-elect, Shuster told reporters that while he'd draw lines in the sand on some policy areas, he is open to nearly every approach on funding. The news report stated that he said raising the gas tax, tying increased energy production to infrastructure funding, inistituting a VMT fee and expanded tolling are all "in play." Shuster noted that the top challenge is "How do we pay for it? ....the most important thing we do is we look at all the options that are out there. We've got figure out a way to finance the system and it needs to be done in a fiscally sound way, not borrowing a bunch of money and spending money we don't have."
Shuster is also getting high marks in several corners for his focus on highway safety issues.
“Rep. Shuster has supported many critical safety provisions throughout his tenure in Congress,” David Kelly, former NHTSA Acting Administrator and now president of consulting firm Storm King Strategies, told Fleet Owner. “His ability to work with many diverse groups and find consensus will be an important trait in the next Congress that will be dealing with many safety issues.”
As part of an effort to, in his words, “hit the ground running” when the 113th Congress opens, Shuster has already made several key staff appointments to the T&I committee.
The first is Christopher Bertram, currently CFO at the U.S. Department of Transportation, who will serve as Committee Chief of Staff. This will be Bertram’s third tour on Capitol Hill, with previous stints as Staff Director of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee from 1996 to 2001; Staff Director of both the Senate Aviation and Surface Subcommittees between 2003 and 2009; and CFO of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Stephen Martinko, currently Chief of Staff for Shuster’s personnel office, will be appointed Deputy Chief of Staff. Jennifer Hall – a six-year veteran of the T&I committee will continue in her position as General Counsel, while Jim Tymon – a 10-year committee veteran – will serve as Senior Advisor to Chairman Shuster as well as continue to serve as Staff Director of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee.
C. Kenneth Orski, a noted public policy consultant and 30-year veteran transportation expert, gives Shuster high marks in part for those staff selections.
“Bill Schuster will make an excellent chairman in my opinion; he is a conservative but is open-minded,” Orksi told Fleet Owner. “Advocates of tolling and public-private partnerships will find Schuster an ally, as will the critics of Obama's high speed rail program.”
Orski in particular noted that Shuster’s choices of Chris Bertram as chief of staff and Steve Martinko as deputy chief of staff are selections, as both are “highly experienced and knowledgeable in transportation policy and legislative matters,” he said.
“They, along with Jim Tymon and Jennifer Hall – whom Schuster wisely decided to keep in their current positions – will make a great team and be of great help to him when the time comes to take up a new transportation bill two years from now,” Orski added.