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American Shipper

Chao sails through confirmation hearing

Elaine Chao testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, which is reviewing her nomination to be secretary of transportation, but provided few details on how the Trump administration intends to pursue investments in infrastructure.

   Elaine Chao’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday went smoothly, but the Secretary of Transportation-designee provided few details on how the Trump administration intends to pursue investments in infrastructure.
   Chao, who served as secretary of labor under President George W. Bush until 2009 and prior to that as deputy secretary of transportation, indicated that Trump is looking heavily to leverage private sector investment in constructing highways, bridges and other facilities.
   “As we work together to develop the details of President Trump’s infrastructure plan, it is important to note the significant difference between traditional program funding and other innovative financing tools, such as public-private partnerships,” Chao said in her opening remarks. “In order to take full advantage of the estimated trillions in capital that equity firms, pension funds, and endowments can invest, these partnerships must be incentivized with a bold new vision.  We look forward to working with you to explore all the options, and to create a mix of practical solutions—both public and private– that provide the greatest cost-benefit to the public. “
   Chao added that “the way we build and deliver projects is as important as how much we invest.” 
   Critics say bureaucratic red tape unnecessarily slow project approvals, which typically take many years to secure from federal agencies.
   “Increasing the capacity and efficiency of our nation’s highways, rail lines, pipelines, and ports is crucial, and will have to be a top priority for the next Secretary of Transportation,” Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said in his opening statement. 
   Other top priorities for the next Transportation Secretary include implementation of additional safety measures across various modes and establishing the ground rules for integrating new technologies into the transportation system, including vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems.
   “Secretary Chao, if confirmed, you will have a momentous opportunity to transform Americans’ transportation network by promoting safety and innovation, growing our nation’s freight network, and ensuring all users – both rural and urban –benefit equally,” Thune said.
   Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is a fixture of the Republican establishment, having also served as deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration and chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission, and has received wide support for her nomination on Capitol Hill and from industry groups.
   The National Retail Federation on Wednesday sent a letter to the Commerce Committee expressing support for Chao’s confirmation.
   “The next secretary of transportation must address ongoing issues of infrastructure funding while ensuring that our transportation systems are truly state-of-the-art and able to handle expected increases in freight flows,” David French, the trade association’s senior vice president for government relations, wrote. “Mrs. Chao has an incredible history, knowledge and experience within the transportation industry and we think she is perfectly suited to be the next secretary.”
   French said Chao “has the background and experience to address some of the key supply chain issues facing our nation and our global competitiveness.” 
   Retailers depend on freight transportation networks to move their goods from global and domestic suppliers to store shelves.
   The Committee has received 19 others letters of support for Chao, including from many construction-related companies.

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