White House (Finally) Announces Szabat Nomination for Under Secretary

White House (Finally) Announces Szabat Nomination for Under Secretary

April 24, 2020  | Jeff Davis

After months of rumors and expectations, the White House announced on April 20 that President Trump will formally nominate Joel Szabat, the Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation and International Affairs, to be Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy (the “S-3” job, ranking just behind the Secretary and Deputy Secretary on the org chart).

The Under Secretary post has been vacant since last July, when Derek Kan left to go to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Szabat has served as Assistant Secretary since being nominated in August 2018 and confirmed by the Senate by voice vote on January 2, 2019. Szabat has worked at USDOT for most of the last 18 years under Presidents from both political parties, and his confirmation for the job seems likely, if the Senate can actually get anybody confirmed in an election year.

After working as a private sector management consultant, a transportation staffer in the California state Assembly, and as a management and budget aide to the EPA Administrator, Szabat started at USDOT in 2002 as a political appointee, as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy under Assistant Secretary Emil Frankel. (Emil, who is now a Senior Fellow at the Eno Center, points out that Szabat is an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan). By the end of 2004, Szabat lateraled over to become Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Management and Budget, under the Assistant Secretary for Budget and Programs.

Along with many other Bush Administration mid-level appointees, he then took a tour of duty on Iraq reconstruction in 2005, to run the U.S. government’s transportation reconstruction program, and served as the Transportation Counselor to the American Ambassador in Baghdad. He returned to the U.S. to be Chief of Staff for the Small Business Administration from 2006-2008. As the Bush Administration was winding down, Szabat went into the career Senior Executive Service and came back to DOT as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy just in time for the beginning of the Obama Administration (not quite the same job as he’d had before – most of these Assistant Secretary posts have at one career incumbent deputy and then one or two politically appointed deputies – in his first tenure at DOT, Szabat was a political deputy, then in his second tenure he was a career deputy).

In that capacity, he was the policy office’s point man for oversight of the $48 billion in ARRA stimulus money received by DOT in 2009, which included the first round of TIGER grants. He then moved to become the Executive Director of the Maritime Administration from 2012-2018.

Szabat received his B.A. in economics and government from Georgetown University, and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

Senate-Confirmed Under Secretaries of Transportation for Policy
Derek Kan 2017-2019
Blair Anderson 2016-2017
Peter Rogoff 2014-2015
Polly Trottenberg 2013-2014
Roy Kienitz 2009-2012
Jeff Shane 2003-2008
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