Transportation policy is a web of interlocking pieces — from mass transit to highways to rail to air. This year, as Hill leaders approach a massive $500 billion transportation reauthorization package, they are hoping to take a more holistic approach to the subject. Still, it’s not clear when they will get there. The Senate wants to punt on reauthorization for 18 months; the House is ready to move ahead. The only real certainty is that the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money next month. Here are 10 staffers who will play important roles in crafting the country’s future transportation network.
Jim Coon, chief of staff, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, minority
Birthplace: Vallejo, Calif.
Education: B.A., Virginia Tech
Jim Coon joined the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as majority staff director of the Subcommittee on Aviation in 2004, after working as a lobbyist for the Air Transport Association and Boeing.
Before joining the ATA, where he worked for five years, he spent more than a decade on the Hill, including time as legislative director for Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and as a staffer on the Aviation Subcommittee.
Coon became minority staff director of the full T&I committee in 2007 under Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), where he manages 30 people and is responsible for developing the Republicans’ overall strategy and position on legislative matters.
Coon’s main focus this year has been on the reauthorization of the highway bill. And he says his downtown background has helped him in dealing with lobbyists.
“I certainly take their advice and expertise into consideration in developing overall strategy in how we are approaching things,— Coon said.
Coon’s measured approach is appreciated by K Streeters, who say his even-keeled nature is a bonus when dealing with the panel.
Kathy Dedrick, senior policy director for transportation, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Birthplace: Newberg, Ore.
Education: B.A., Willamette University
“The new bill will be transformational,— Dedrick said. “We need to re-evaluate how things are working to come up with a new system.—
The biggest challenge for Dedrick is handling all of the transportation issues at once as Congress considers climate change and energy bills this year.
“There’s a lot going on,— she said. “But in transportation you really work together to build coalitions and see the fruits of your labor.— Dedrick said she is “always willing to listen— and work with lobbyists and outside interests. It’s especially helpful when they present clear, focused ideas, she said.
Lobbyists said Dedrick “does it all— and will be crucial to moving a bill this year.
Dedrick’s major accomplishment is working to increase the amount of funding for transportation in the stimulus package passed earlier this year.
Before joining the EPW panel, Dedrick spent six years on the House side in the personal office and on the Transportation subcommittee of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), which included work on the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. She moved across the Capitol a couple of years ago.
She started her career in Washington, D.C., with Vice President Al Gore, first in his correspondence office before moving into legislative affairs.
Kate Hallahan, clerk, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development
Birthplace: Clarksville, Ind.
Education: B.A. in political science and B.A. in speech communication, University of Washington
The improvement of communication between House committees is one area that Hallahan says has greatly improved and could help lead to a new approach to the nation’s transportation challenges.
Work on the stimulus earlier this year brought her subcommittee’s chairman, John Olver (D-Mass.), and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) closer together.
“We sought them out, and we really tried to work very closely with them,— she said. “I think Mr. Oberstar felt like he made a contribution, and it formed a collaborative new bond between House appropriators and T&I.—
Although Hallahan says the staff tries to be accessible to lobbyists, “we don’t have a lot of time unless it’s something really important.—
A veteran of the Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, Hallahan returned to Capitol Hill in 2001 to work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, then moved to the House in 2006.
“I’m hoping I retire from the Hill,— she said.
Jim Kolb, staff director, Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit
Birthplace: Buffalo, N.Y.
Education: B.A., State University of New York at Buffalo; M.P.P., George Mason University
Jim Kolb didn’t waste any time plunging head first into his new job, holding subcommittee hearings on the latest highway and transit reauthorization a mere three days after he walked into his new office.
Nearly three years later, the bill is through his subcommittee and is expected to undergo plenty of changes before the House takes up the $500 billion legislation.
Kolb considers the production of the “transformational— bill his greatest achievement so far in his short time on Capitol Hill.
But it took years of lobbying and a job in a federal agency before Kolb finally followed his love of policy to the Hill.
“I’ve always been a lot more interested in the policy, and I had this opportunity and it’s the most rewarding and intense thing I’ve ever been a part of,— he said.
After a stint in the House Doorkeeper’s office, he became a lobbyist for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, where he stayed almost six years.
From there he moved to a position at the Transportation Department with the Clinton administration and eventually went back to lobbying, this time for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, where he worked for nearly six years.
“Stakeholder groups at the end of the day want legislation that works,— he said about his dealings with Washington, D.C.’s interest groups.
Kolb gets high praise from lobbyists, who said his off-the-Hill experience gives him the background and knowledge for his work on the committee.
“In a short amount of time, Jim has emerged as consummate committee staff person,— one transportation lobbyist said.
“He managed the T&I Committee’s reauthorization process that produced a comprehensive bill well ahead of the deadline, an accomplishment other committees with longer tenured staff have been unable to emulate,— the lobbyist added.
Tom Lynch, staff director, Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, majority
Birthplace: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Education: B.S., James Madison University; J.D., Georgia State University
Not only does Lynch work for Baucus, the subcommittee chairman, but he also plays a key role as a liaison to the Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus also leads.
“Sen. Baucus has a unique position not only as a senior member on the EPW Committee, where he has a key role in authorizing a transportation bill, but also as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, [where] he has a key role in how to pay for the transportation bill,— Lynch said.
This Congress, Lynch is focused on working with Finance staffers on the upcoming surface transportation bill.
Lynch has only been staff director for the past year. Prior to joining Baucus’ staff in 2008, he served for three years as legislative director for Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
Before joining Rahall’s staff, Lynch worked in national sales for the company now known as Philip Container Services.
Ward McCarragher, chief counsel, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
Birthplace: Waukesha, Wis.
Education: B.A. and J.D., University of Wisconsin
McCarragher — who has seen his way through a few surface transportation bills since joining the committee in 1993 — and his staff are looking for ways to raise enough money to avoid the insolvency of some highway and transit accounts.
Outside groups and lobbying interests keep him “very busy— with the expanding details of the bill.
He acknowledged that the “transformative— measure is difficult to piece together as programs are being eliminated and consolidated and federal roles are being restored with specific objectives and performance criteria.
“The chairmen and other Members developed their concept for this bill; they built the framework,— he said. “We put pen to paper in developing the draft. There’s a very open process.—
He called the legislation’s $500 billion six-year reauthorization “daunting— and the nation’s transportation needs “overwhelming.—
McCarragher said people don’t realize that the most common cause of death for people between the ages of 2 and 34 is highway traffic accidents. The bill doubles money for safety.
Ward is “not only an expert on the myriad technical issues related to the federal surface, aviation and water transportation programs, but he is also a strategic tactician and has the full confidence of Chairman Oberstar,— one lobbyist said, referring to T&I Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.).
McCarragher is most proud of his work on an aviation security bill in response to the Sept. 11 attacks because “it was so important to the country,— he said. He also noted work on the 1998 highway bill that made sure gas taxes would be spent for specific uses.
Joyce Rose, staff director, House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, minority
Birthplace: Leonardtown, Md.
Education: B.A., Frostburg State University
Last year she was promoted to Republican staff director for the T&I Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
In that role, she shepherded the successful Amtrak reauthorization and rail safety authorization bills last year. Neither had been done for more than a decade.
Before joining the T&I Committee, Rose worked on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
Prior to working on the Hill, Rose worked for what is now the American Forest and Paper Association.
“I am finding a lot of connections between transit and rail,— Rose said of combining her expertise on transit issues on the Appropriations Committee with her new role.
That expertise has been noticed by K Streeters.
“Joyce really knows her stuff,— one transportation lobbyist said. “She’s passionate about the issues and is always a consummate professional.—
Amy Scarton, majority counsel, House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit
Birthplace: Fort Thomas, Ky.
Education: A.B. in political science and J.D., Duke University
The $500 billion surface transportation bill, recently approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, includes language mirroring a law school paper that Scarton wrote nearly a decade ago about providing lower-income workers and students with affordable housing near transit centers.
“This is a dynamic time to be on this particular committee and working for a chairman who is ready to go,— she said.
Although the bill is now open to outside input, Scarton said, “there was no open-door policy for outside lobbyists, and their influence on the first draft was minimal to none.—
Scarton has spent the majority of her career on Capitol Hill, but she worked nearly three years at the Surface Transportation Board.
During her nearly three years with the T&I panel, the committee has gradually constructed a bill focused on taking new approaches to connect the nation’s roads, rails and waterways while taking environmental factors into account and providing more stringent performance standards.
“It was such a collaborative and great experience to write that 770-page bill that puts in some much-needed reforms that will help move the country forward,— she said.
Amy Steinmann, policy director, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, minority
Education: B.A., Florida International University
Amy Steinmann, the minority’s policy director of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is involved in most high-profile legislative issues for the Republicans, helping game out their political strategy.
The former floor director under then-Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Steinmann is also chiefly responsible for being the liaison between Republicans on the committee and K Streeters.
Prior to joining the Republican leadership team, Steinmann worked for former Florida Rep. Dan Miller (R). She also served as an appropriations analyst for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
Because things “start and end— with the committee, lobbyists put a high priority on their relationship with committee staff, she said.
While she no longer spends her days in the Whip’s office, Steinmann said her biggest professional accomplishment was never losing a vote that was being whipped on the floor.
She has taken that same intensity with her for the past two and a half years at the committee level, transportation lobbyists said.
“She’s got a really deep reservoir [about] not only individual Members and what makes individual Members tick, but also on how to put together coalitions and get enough votes for things,— said Todd Hauptli, senior executive vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives.
Mitch Warren, senior policy adviser, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, majority
Education: B.A., University of Pennsylvania; M.P.A., Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Mitch Warren has only been a senior policy adviser on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee specializing on transportation issues since December. But he’s already made a big impression.
Warren, who jumped back to the Hill after working as a lobbyist at Amtrak and Blank Rome Government Relations, said the allure of working on public transit issues during a transformative time for transportation issues was a big draw.
“We’re really trying to change the way we do public transportation in this country,— Warren said, which includes everything from climate change goals to public security to creating economic development.
Warren regularly meets with lobbyists. As a former K Streeter, he says the best lobbyists are the ones “who really believe in the issue and aren’t necessarily doing it for a paycheck or to bill a client.—
Warren started on the Hill as an aide to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in 1994. He later worked as a staffer on the Senate Budget Committee doing transportation issues and later as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.