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Woman with W.Va. ties eyed for US Cabinet seat

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Deborah Hersman, whose family is from Spencer, Roane County, is a leading candidate to be nominated secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Hersman is chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB. She is serving her second term on the five-person board.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation is a Cabinet-level post. The department has almost 60,000 employees. President Barack Obama's 2013 budget request includes $74 billion for the department.

The department's agencies include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and Maritime Administration.

Hersman has become known "for fighting against sleepy pilots and drunken drivers" and "has won bipartisan praise from lawmakers for increasing the profile of the independent safety board, partly by promoting highway safety and speeding up completion of probes into commercial-aviation accidents and incidents," the Journal reported on Monday.

The newspaper quoted unnamed sources "close to the White House and familiar with the selection process" as saying Hersman is a leading candidate to succeed Ray LaHood, who plans to leave the top job.

"President Barack Obama is under pressure to appoint more women to top White House and administration positions - a political reality that would seem to boost Ms. Hersman's prospects," the Journal said.

Before Hersman became a member of the NTSB in 2004, she was a senior professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which is officially named the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Before that, she was staff director and senior legislative aide to then-Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va.

Her job on the safety board has brought Hersman to West Virginia several times:


  • In 2011, she rode a UPS truck to Charleston, where she discussed highway safety issues. After meetings here, she continued on to Louisville, Ky., riding in trucks from U.S. Express and Walmart.


  • Last Monday, Hersman testified during the Senate Commerce Committee's field hearing on pipeline safety. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller chairs the committee.

    The NTSB is investigating the natural gas pipeline explosion last month near Sissonville that destroyed three homes, damaged several others and scorched Interstate 77. The NTSB advocates stronger pipeline safety measures.

    An independent federal agency, the NTSB investigates every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in the other modes of transportation. The agency conducts special investigations and safety studies and issues safety recommendations to prevent future accidents.

    The Journal noted that Hersman, acting as chairman, is overseeing the NTSB's investigation into the lithium ion batteries installed on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner jets.

    One battery caught fire Jan. 7 on a Dreamliner at Boston's Logan International Airport that was operated by Japan Airlines. Another battery incident on Jan. 16 led to an emergency landing by a Dreamliner in Japan. The worldwide fleet of Dreamliners has since been grounded.

    Sen. Rockefeller said on Sunday that he would like to see Hersman nominated to the top Transportation Department job, the Journal reported. Rockefeller told the newspaper that during her tenure at the NTSB, "she has been a constant reassuring presence."

    President George W. Bush appointed Hersman to the NTSB in 2004 and President Obama reappointed her.

    The president designates a member as chairman for a two-year term. President Obama nominated Hersman to the post. The U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination, and she was sworn in as chairman on July 28, 2009. Her term as chairman runs until July. Her second term as a board member expires on Dec. 31.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation's mission is to ensure a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets the nation's vital interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.

    Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836.


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