Fast Track for STB Nominees

Fast Track for STB Nominees

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

Surface Transportation Board nominees Frank Mulvey and Douglas Buttrey probably found the cab ride to their March 4 Senate nomination hearing more stressful than the hearing itself.

Mulvey, a Democrat, and Buttrey, a Republican, were selected by the Bush Administration late last year to round out the three-person STB alongside Republican chairman Roger Nober. At their March 4 hearing, they only had to answer to Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who, as it turned out, had no questions to ask.

"Judging by the large turnout up here, you can tell that this is a very important hearing," McCain quipped.

McCain urged speedy confirmation of Mulvey and Buttrey. "The STB has been moribund for a period of time, and there''s a large backlog there that needs to be addressed," McCain said. "There''s gridlock in Congress on several transportation issues, including captive shipper issues."

The Senate Commerce Committee on March 9 sent the nominations to the Senate floor for confirmation.

Mulvey, 59, clearly has the longer transportation resume of the two nominees, having worked on Capitol Hill, in government, and the private sector dealing with everything from airline deregulation to rail competition and cross-border trucking.

That experience was recognized by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, when he introduced Mulvey as a "renaissance man in transportation."

Mulvey, Oberstar said, "is the kind of person that the STB needs when corporate railroad interests clash with the interests of the shipping public."

Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., introduced Buttrey by first delivering greetings from his former boss Fred Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx Corp. Memphis, Tenn.-native Buttrey, 58, spent 22 years at the $23 billion global transportation and logistics company as senior government affairs representative.

"Fedex built its entire reputation on customer service," Ford said, "and Mr. Buttrey will bring that same commitment to shippers, receivers, and consumers as a member of the STB."

Mulvey and Buttrey made only brief statements, but biographical information available at the hearing gave some insight into the approach Mulvey and Buttrey might take at the board.

Both believe in a free-market economy with limited government intervention. "Unfortunately," Buttrey said, "the free enterprise organism has proved in some cases to have feet of clay and government intrusion has resulted. Consequently, the American economy is replete with examples of well-intentioned attempts to benignly engineer a result that would not likely occur in totally deregulated commerce."

"I believe that the public sector''s role also extends to establishing the rules under which market participants can act," Mulvey stated. "In general, these rules are designed to ensure that people are treated fairly and that the interest of those with less power are defended."

At the STB, those would be small shippers and shippers captive to a single railroad - whose concerns Mulvey rates as one of the top three challenges facing the board.

"There is clearly mounting pressure for a legislative response to the concerns of captive shippers," with the railroads claiming that such legislation would destroy the industry, Mulvey stated. "Shippers claim without such changes they will be forced out of business or will need to relocate, perhaps overseas."

Mulvey also wrote that further rail consolidation in the industry "might create pressure to truly re-regulate the industry."

For Buttrey, finding ways to fulfill the board''s statutory mandate with limited resources and balancing the stakeholders in the freight rail industry topped his list of the top challenges before the board.

At the hearing, Buttrey acknowledged he''ll have "a very steep learning curve" at the agency that regulates surface transportation, as most of his transportation background comes from a company whose specialty is moving air freight.

"I''m going to be doing a lot of listening at the beginning," Buttrey said. "I look forward to taking a good hard look at the issues and working with the board to get those issues resolved."