As the regulator who handed out the single highest civil penalty amount ever paid to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this morning that he would not be staying on for the second term in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
LaHood’s time as secretary included last month’s agreement with Toyota to pay $17.35 million to settle claims related to the timeliness of a recall made back in June.
That campaign was to address the potential for accelerator pedal entrapment caused by unsecured or incompatible driver’s side floor mat in the 2010 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h. Toyota said the fine comes without admitting to any violation of the automaker’s obligations under the U.S. Safety Act.
And back in 2010, LaHood announced that Toyota agreed to pay an additional $32.425 million in civil penalties as the result of two separate investigations into the automaker’s handling of recalls that also were connected with accelerator pedal entrapment.
Following each of these announcements, LaHood said, “Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously.”
In revealing his decision to DOT employees today, LaHood indicated that he plans to stay on until his successor is confirmed “to ensure a smooth transition for the department and all the important work we still have to do.”
Obama offered his appreciation for LaHood’s contributions.
“I want to thank Secretary LaHood for his dedication, his hard work, and his years of service to the American people — including the outstanding work he’s done over the last four years as Secretary of Transportation,” Obama said. “I also want to thank Ray for his friendship. Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief.
“As Secretary of Transportation, he has fought to create jobs and grow our economy by rebuilding our roads, bridges and transit systems,” Obama went on to say. “Under his leadership, we have made significant investments in our passenger rail system and laid the groundwork for the high-speed rail network of the future. And every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger. I am grateful to Ray for everything he’s done, and I wish him only the best going forward.”
Beyond recalls and penalties, LaHood also played a crucial role in pushing the administration’s target of raising the corporate average fuel economy level to almost 55 miles per gallon by 2025.
After highlighting several other developments regarding roads and the military, LaHood told the DOT, “Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country. DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants.
“I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward,” he added.
LaHood’s full announcement to the DOT can be found here.