The line of political nominees for high-level positions in the federal agencies continues to slowly march through Congress. One of several nominees up for debate in the Senate this week is President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Transportation Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), Diana Furchtgott-Roth.
As someone concerned about the direction of the progressive transportation policy passed under the Obama Administration, Furchtgott-Roth couldn’t be a more troubling pick. Her background and regressive views on public policy make it clear that she has been chosen for this role not because she is a transportation policy expert, but because she is a hard-line conservative economist who can develop, find, and promote research that makes the case for eliminating DOT programs and policy.
Furchtgott-Roth’s views are antithetical to the mission of the DOT Office of Research and Technology
The stated mission of the OST-R is to “transform transportation and make our transportation system safer, more efficient, competitive and sustainable.” To meet this goal, the OST-R five year strategic plan focuses on promoting safety, improving mobility, improving infrastructure, and preserving the environment, which includes addressing the effects of transportation activities on climate change.
Furchtgott-Roth is not known for having expertise on any of these issues. Instead, she is best known for her views on the minimum wage (against), the gender pay gap (a myth), and unions (strong pass). She has also argued that female secret service agents can’t protect the President as well as male agents, climate change is a natural phenomenon, and fuel economy standards kill people. How wonderful! Overall, her career-long campaign against feminism, labor rights and public health make her a concerning candidate in charge of public policy at any level, but especially at the main research arm of the DOT charged with examining transportation-related impacts on the environment, public health, and personal mobility.
Furchtgott-Roth has little experience that is relevant to the DOT Office of Research and Technology
The relevant experience Furchtgott-Roth brings to the table for this role is limited to writing a few articles and blog posts for right-wing think tanks criticizing Obama’s transportation policies. She is an economist by training, a former staffer in the U.S. Department of Labor (and incidentally also formerly managed by current DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, when Chao was the DOL Secretary–#draintheswamp, indeed!), and current senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think-tank whose mission is to foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility (read: get rid of government policy and environmental safeguards). She has no direct experience in transportation-related roles, nor any experience in transportation issues outside of her general anti-regulation commentary.
She herself has a tough time commenting on any relevant experience. Here is what she wrote in response to a Senate questionnaire that asks, “what in your background or employment experience do you believe affirmatively qualifies you for appointment…”
“Nothing is more important to the economic health of America than getting the private sector involved in rebuilding the Nation’s infrastructure. As an economist with over 30 years of experience, I have studied the provision of infrastructure and transportation extensively. I have written articles on transportation issues and on regulation. In addition, I have managed staffs at the Council of Economic Advisers, at the Department of Labor, and at the Manhattan Institute. I have reviewed hundreds of papers and articles to determine their quality and suitability for publication.”
How in the world is any of that either specific enough to be relevant, or related to the mission of the OST-R?
If Furchtgott-Roth was nominated for a role in the DOL, or as an economic advisor, perhaps that would make sense. But for someone with an extensive background in labor and economic issues, not transportation issues, running the DOT OST-R is a bad fit.
Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t use data to tell the full story
Like many political commentators, Furchtgott-Roth doesn’t use data to tell the whole story. Instead, she cherry picks data from studies that best support her argument, without referencing data that supports any counter argument or data that provides a more comprehensive view of any issue. This approach may be appropriate as a bombastic conservative commentator, but not for the person in charge of providing policymakers with impartial, robust data on transportation issues.
For example, Furchtgott-Roth has argued that federal fuel efficiency standards are a bad idea because they literally kill people by requiring automakers to make cars lighter, and therefore less safe. In her book, Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America’s Economy, she writes “for the government, saving fuel is more important than saving lives. It prefers to pay in blood to save oil.”
Now, if you look at the 1,200-page technical report prepared by the EPA and DOT in advance of finalizing the 2017-2025 federal fuel efficiency standards, you’ll find that even though light-weighting can contribute to a car’s safety level (which is also related to a litany of other factors, weight only being one of them), the standards can be achieved and still save lives overall. This is because the standards encourage automakers to reduce the weight more from SUVs than smaller cars. Furchtgott-Roth conveniently left this fact out of her arguments against fuel efficiency standards. Oh, and you know what also kills people? CLIMATE CHANGE AND AIR POLLUTION, which the fuel efficiency standards and other EPA/DOT vehicle policies directly address.
Evidence of Furchtgott-Roth cherry picking data also lies in her claims that climate change either isn’t happening, or is not caused by human activity. In 2015, she claimed “the Earth has been warming and cooling for millennia, certainly before the industrial revolution. It has been steadily warming since the Little Ice Age of the 1700s. Over the past 15 years, despite increasing greenhouse gas emissions, the warming by some measures has stopped.” Not only has average global temperature continued to increase since 2015, but the short plateau referred to by Furchtgott-Roth has been debunked as a myth.
Overall, Furchtgott-Roth’s misguided use of data isn’t appropriate to lead a public office in charge of reporting accurate data, and should be addressed by Congress when questioning her qualifications for the role.