Could FMCSA Be Without an Administrator for Years?

- Ray Martinez has left the building. That is, U.S. DOT headquarters in Washington, where he headed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a little over a year and a half, from late February 2018 until Monday.

His abrupt departure, among other personnel shuffling, has left Jim Mullen, the agency’s former chief counsel and current deputy administrator, as the top ranking official and, thus, in charge of the day-to-day operations of FMCSA.

Effectively, Mullen is the agency’s acting/interim administrator, an FMCSA official says. What’s more, Mullen could be poised to hold the position of interim administrator for years, no matter the outcome of the presidential election next year, should recent history serve as a barometer. Administrators of FMCSA must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. That’s not a quick process. For instance, President Trump nominated Martinez in late September 2017 — a full eight months after Trump took office. Martinez was then not confirmed by the Senate until five months later, February of 2018, and he was sworn in as the agency’s boss February 28, 2018.

What’s more, the Trump Administration faces a lingering and sizeable backlog of appointment vacancies across the government, and given the current political turmoil in Washington and a looming presidential election, finding a new appointee to run FMCSA likely isn’t a priority.
It’s conceivable to think Trump may not nominate a replacement for Martinez until after the election, should he win, which could mean Mullen would helm the agency on an acting basis for a year to 18 months. Should Trump lose the election and a new president enter the White House, it could be into 2022 before the agency again has a permanent administrator in place.

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