Ann Phillips pictured during her confirmation hearing for US Maritime Administrator

MARAD & FMC Nominations Get Stalled By Republican Senators

Bloomberg
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February 5, 2022

By Keith Laing and Lillianna Byington (Bloomberg) — Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has been stalling the nominations of Transportation and Commerce Department nominees since November, saying he will continue until the commerce panel convenes a hearing with the departments’ secretaries on supply chain bottlenecks.

President Joe Biden’s pick to run the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration won a key congressional committee’s approval Wednesday, advancing the nominee toward a vote of the full Senate.

Steven Cliff has been the agency’s interim chief since January. He is a former deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board, which regulates auto emissions in the Golden State. He navigated through a smooth confirmation vote, although Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) voiced opposition during the markup.

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NHTSA, the federal regulator charged with keeping U.S. roads safe, is now in its fifth year without a permanent administrator.

Before tapping Cliff, Biden faced pressure to appoint a permanent NHTSA chief from safety advocates who cited an increase in U.S. traffic deaths despite reduced driving during the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, the agency has ramped up its politically fraught investigation of Tesla Inc. and may be on a collision course with the company over its controversial Autopilot system.

The committee also advanced several other Transportation Department officials, including Ann Phillips to lead the Maritime Administration, John Putnam to be the department’s general counsel, and Victoria Wassmer to be its chief financial officer.

Biden needed to renominate many of his transportation picks, including Cliff, this year after their nominations lapsed over the Senate’s holiday recess. The transportation nominees still face hurdles to confirmation.

Max Vekich, nominated to be a commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission, also won the panel’s approval. If confirmed, Vekich would serve with other commissioners on the FMC, which regulates U.S. international ocean transportation. Vekich faced questions during his nomination hearing about port congestion and supply chain problems.

The commission can “be serious about enforcement” of rules involving charges imposed on merchants when they hold onto shipping containers, Vekich said during his hearing in October. The FMC is probing the practice used by some shipping lines and port-terminal operators of tacking on fees for late pickup or overdue returns of containers.

A Scott spokesperson said Tuesday the senator planned to maintain his hold.

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