Pete Buttigieg has had a rough tenure as Secretary of Transportation.
Well, it could only seem that way because Buttigieg is the only Transportation Secretary with name-brand recognition, and because Republicans are motivated to thwart Buttigieg, who is openly striving to be a future president.
Or it could be because Buttigieg’s tenure has actually been rocky, punctuated with legitimate problems.
Pete Buttigieg In the Hot Seat
Remember Buttigieg was criticized when he first got the job.
He had no experience even remotely related to the Department of Transportation. During his first speech as Secretary, Buttigieg talked about proposing to his husband at O’Hare International Airport as if that somehow qualified as requisite experience to manage the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Now, does it matter? Does one need transportation-specific experience to be a successful manager of the DOT? I’m not sure. The previous experience requirement sometimes feels like a fallacy, doesn’t it? I’m noticing how many people are just thrown into jobs without any experience and then just figure the job out on the fly.
Buttigieg Gives Answers
When asked why the nation’s aviation workforce is about 30,000 workers understaffed, Buttigieg gave a polished response about retirements and attrition going up. He talked about demand going up.
And of course, because he’s a Democrat and it’s the 2020s, he talked about certain people being underrepresented in aviation. He doesn’t really answer the question other than to say he’s increasing staffing at the FAA.
The conversation then descends, briefly, into woke drivel. The CBS host starts talking about how white men have dominated the aviation industry and asks Buttigieg whether the DOT is doing anything to attract non-traditional students.
Buttigieg responds with some talk about STEM programming in K-12 as a way of encouraging people who do not have multigenerational ties to aviation to pursue careers in aviation. Okay. I’ll spare you the full rant about my own experience accessing the aviation industry, but I’ll point out that barriers to aviation access are about socio-economics, not race or gender.
CBS then reminds Buttigieg that he has regulatory power over the airlines. Are you doing enough? CBS asks. What is DOT doing to hold airlines accountable? Buttigieg says he is holding airlines accountable for things within their control (i.e. scheduling practices) but otherwise, the answer is vague.
Who He Is
Mostly, the interview serves as a reminder that Buttigieg is purely a politician. His answers are rehearsed and cheerful and vague. He doesn’t seem like an aviation technocrat or even a bureaucrat. He sounds like a presidential candidate. Here’s a good example of what I mean:
“We never take for granted the exceptional safety record of U.S. aviation. If you just stop and think about it for a second, it is a marvel, that a form of transportation that involves being propelled through flammable fuel, through the sky, miles above the surface of the ground at nearly the speed of sound gets millions of passengers to where they’re going safely and is actually safer than any other form of transportation, that’s because we have extremely high standards, extremely tough regulations, and a high level of redundancy,” Buttigieg said.
Well, I can’t argue with that. Aviation is a modern miracle that would have thrilled and shocked the majority of humans who ever lived.
Yet, most aviation travelers don’t even bother to look out the window.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.