Secretary Mayor Pete Makes History, But Can He Do the Job?
Like him or hate him, there’s no denying that Pete Buttigieg has shaken the norms in the political sphere. His path from reelection as an openly gay mayor in the midwest to his historic cabinet confirmation has served as a feel-good story we didn’t know we needed. But we’ll need a lot more from than just a good story from this point on.
With a final 86-13 vote, the Senate Tuesday confirmed Buttigieg’s appointment to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation. The former presidential candidate and surprisingly successful Democrat voice on Fox News is now the first openly gay Cabinet member.
Now, Secretary Pete Buttigieg (a.k.a. Secretary Mayor Pete) has his work cut out for him as he takes the reins at the massively consequential, but long ignored agency that at its best can help us positively reshape the nation. The DOT has not been at its best for quite some time. Infrastructure Week, anyone?
In his new role, he will oversee about 55,000 employees who are all somehow responsible for getting us safely from Point A to Point B, and while that is the simple description, there is nothing simple about the job ahead in an agency responsible for aviation safety, railroads, pipelines, transit, federal highways and so much more. The department sits at the literal intersection of infrastructure, climate change and economic recovery. No pressure.
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President Joe Biden will rely heavily on Buttigieg to carry out the extensive “Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” plan he’s proposed. The plan aims to achieve “100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050,” which includes major investment in transportation, energy and water infrastructure to repair broken systems and bring them into the environmentally sustainable fold.
Buttigieg faces volumes of stacked up problems on Day 1 that former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao notoriously avoided dealing with. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that approximately 9.1 percent of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient and more than 13 percent are functionally obsolete and exacerbate traffic congestion issues.
When the young former mayor ran for president, he often referred to his millennial status in explaining his unique interest in fighting climate change. After all, he’ll likely live on this planet much longer than most elected officials and he’s made it known he’d prefer the air and water doesn’t poison him as he does he. The DOT plays an instrumental role in making sure our infrastructure is not just safely maintained but innovative in ways of energy efficiency. There is no question that goals outlined by both Biden and Buttigieg will require a lot of money and a lot of labor, but if they can get their hands on the budget, the labor shouldn’t be hard to find right about now.
Many compare Biden’s challenges to those of FDR’s in pulling the country out of the Great Depression. It’s worth noting that FDR’s New Deal was largely focused on infrastructure projects that helped put Americans to work. There are ample opportunities ahead to invest in our infrastructure, boost employment and improve the impact on climate change, but it will take the success of Secretary Mayor Pete and team to pull that off, and that will take a hell of a lot more than just a feel-good story.