House Passes Bill Naming USDOT Headquarters Building After Norm Mineta

House Passes Bill Naming USDOT Headquarters Building After Norm Mineta

November 05, 2021  | Jeff Davis

On November 4, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 4679) naming the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters building after former Transportation Secretary (and former Congressman, and longtime Eno Center Board of Directors member) Norman Mineta.

The vote was 409 to 14, with one member voting “present.” The “no” votes appeared to be the group who vote “no” on almost all legislation, and the “present” vote was Chip Roy (R-TX), who says that, moving forward, he will vote “present” on all such naming bills, because “my staff’s better time is spent dealing with the multiple crises we are facing than doing deep-dives into the lives of the individuals for whom government buildings have been named or to glorify politicians going forward, at least while we have so many more important things to do.”

The bill had been debated in the House the day before, but there was little debate. Only two members spoke – Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) read Mineta’s impressive resume and called him a “great American patriot” and said that he “deserves this recognition.” Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS), the fourth-ranking Republican member on the Public Buildings subcommittee, acknowledged that Mineta’s career “demonstrates his commitment to public service” but also alluded to the fact that “our colleagues in the Senate are also very interested in this issue, and I hope that we can work together to find a resolution that works for both Chambers.”

That was as close as anyone reading the Congressional Record would get to finding out that the Senate already passed a bill this year (S. 400) naming the same building after a different former Secretary, William Coleman. That bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent on April 14, 2021, after an identical bill (S. 3239, 116th Congress) passed the Senate in the last Congress but died of inaction in the House.

Both men are public service legends, the first African-American SecDOT and the first Asian-American SecDOT. Coleman died in 2017 at age 96, and the move to name the building after him took off shortly after that. Mineta is still very much alive and well, but this CRS report shows that, to the extent Congress has rules about naming federal buildings, the general rule against naming buildings for living persons does not apply to naming facilities after former U.S. Presidents or Vice Presidents, or naming them after former Members of Congress over 70 years of age. (Mineta turns 90 next week.)

As to how the House and Senate will settle this disagreement, your guess is as good as ours, but two possibilities spring to mind.

  1. Hyphenate it. Flip a coin to see whose name goes first, and name it the Coleman-Mineta building or the Mineta-Coleman building, as the coin decides.
  2. Split the baby. The USDOT building is actually two separate buildings, joined by an underground walkway, and the buildings actually have two street addresses. The West Building has the main public entrance and the postal address for the building – 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE – but the East Building has its own street entrance of 1201 Fourth Street SE. Flip a coin and name one for Mineta and one for Coleman. (Curtis Tate points out that there is even a DOT component precedent for this – the FAA headquarters facing the National Mall is two separate buildings with two different street addresses. 600 Independence Avenue SW is the Wilbur Wright Federal Building and 800 Independence Avenue SW is the Orville Wright Federal Building. Peter Rogoff points out that different USDOT building names would help people figure out which entrance to use to attend meetings.)
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