WASHINGTON — Pete Buttigieg, sworn in Wednesday as transportation secretary, urged his 55,000 employees to embrace “imaginative, bold, forward thinking” as the Transportation Department embarks on a vital mission to rebuild America’s infrastructure and foster equality.
“We will continue to prioritize safety as the foundation of everything we do,” Buttigieg said in his email message, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “And at the same time, we will break new ground: in ensuring that our economy recovers and rebuilds, in rising to the climate challenge, and in making sure transportation is an engine for equity in this country.”
He added that the department’s mission “has never been more important than in this season of change and possibility.”
In a broader video message he tweeted to the American public, Buttigieg stressed both the challenges and opportunities ahead in improving America's transportation system.
“Today we face an unprecedented health crisis, we’re navigating an economy in danger and our nation is reckoning with the impacts of systemic racism,” he said in the one-minute campaign-style video. "But with new leadership comes a new opportunity, a chance to build our transportation system back better than it ever was before."
"There is so much work to do, but I am deeply optimistic about where this journey will lead," he said.
Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and former Democratic presidential candidate, was sworn in Wednesday morning by Vice-President Kamala Harris, at a ceremony in the Old Executive Office Building in the White House complex. Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post, took the oath on a Bible belonging to his mother and held by his husband, Chasten.
He was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate on a 86-13 vote, making him the second of Biden’s Democratic rivals to have a place in the administration, with Harris being the first.
Praised by Biden as bringing a “new voice” to the administration, Buttigieg has pledged to quickly get to work promoting safety and restoring consumer trust in America’s transportation networks as airlines, buses, city subway systems and Amtrak reel from plummeting ridership in the coronavirus pandemic. He also is expected to play an important role in promoting Biden’s green initiatives, supporting the president’s push later this year on a $2 trillion climate and infrastructure plan that would rebuild roads and bridges and expand zero-emission mass transit while boosting electric vehicle infrastructure.
In his email to staff Wednesday, Buttigieg said he will spend the next few weeks on a virtual listening tour with employees and looked forward to fulfilling Biden's vision of a thriving America “in partnership with all of you.”
He said he will work to “ensure that every single day, everyone here finds the Department to be a place of belonging and welcome — and that together, we cultivate a supportive, imaginative, bold, forward-thinking and kind working environment.”
Describing himself and his enthusiasm for transportation, Buttigieg recounted to employees how he loved travel and adventure as a child, with his bedroom adorned with a Lego monorail, a wooden ship bought by his grandfather when he was a Merchant Marine, and little model airplanes brought home by his father from business trips.
As a college student and young professional, Buttigieg said he took cross-country Amtrak trips and proposed to his husband at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
“I know that, at its best, transportation makes the American Dream possible, getting people and goods to where they need to be — and directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs,” he said. “We also must recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial and economic inequality, dividing or isolating neighbourhoods , undermining the government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive.”
“The legacy of American transportation can be both weighty and inspiring — and its future is of fundamental national importance,” Buttigieg told employees. “Here’s to all that’s ahead.”
Hope Yen, The Associated Press