Join The
Get The

Infrastructure in the News 8.4.16


The New York Times: Clinton Campaign Studying Alternative to U.S. Ethanol Mandate

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign has solicited advice from California regulators on how to revamp a federal regulation requiring biofuels like corn-based ethanol be blended into the nation's gasoline supply, according to campaign and state officials.

The New York Times: Tesla’s Big Loss Reflects Its Costly Ambitions

Tesla Motors said on Wednesday that its losses deepened in the second quarter, but the electric-car maker pledged to expand production and improve the profitability of its vehicles.

Wall Street Journal: Auto Makers, Regulators Spar on Fuel Economy

Auto makers and environmental regulators are publicly sparring over stringent fuel-economy standards, signaling a pitched battle ahead over whether to relax the Obama administration’s future mileage targets.


Redfin's Sheharyar Bokhari, a researcher at the MIT Center for Real Estate, has developed a system for calculating the value of walkability in major metro markets. In Wednesday's Redfin Real Time blog, he reports:

In U.S. cities, homes within walking distance to jobs, schools, shopping, parks and other urban amenities are both highly desired and extremely rare. Fewer than 2 percent of active listings are considered a walker’s paradise (Walk Score of 90 and above). Yet 56 percent of millennials and 46 percent of boomers prefer walkable communities with a range of housing amidst local businesses and public services. And like everything rare and desirable, walkability comes at a premium; homes highly “walkable” to amenities, everything else being equal, are more expensive than comparable homes in less “walkable” areas.


The Washington Post: VDOT uses new system to ease I-66 bottleneck

After launching their Active Traffic Management system on Interstate 66 last fall, Virginia transportation planners have been looking for more ways to use the electronic communication system to improve traffic flow.

The Washington Post: Metro officials may have known of track defect in 2009, NTSB officials say

A limited investigation into last week’s derailment of a Silver Line Metro train has found that Metro officials may have known about problems with track in that area since 2009, according to findings released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday.

The Washington Post: Beach Drive rehabilitation begins next month, will close busy commuter route

Beach Drive, a busy commuter route in Northwest Washington, is crumbling. Gaps are spreading. Cracks are widening. And the seven bridges along the 6.5-mile long road are eroding.

Bethesda Magazine: Citing Metro Woes, Federal Judge Orders Another Study of Purple Line Light-Rail Project

A federal judge on Wednesday vacated federal government approval of the Purple Line light-rail in a decision that could jeopardize the long-planned project set to start construction later this year.


SEPTA announced on Wednesday the train cars that service the Regional Rail lines, which were pulled out of service in early July, will start going back into service later this month.

The Detroit News: Hackel, Patterson won’t campaign for transit tax plan

After days of uncertainty, the Regional Transit Authority board is expected Thursday morning to greenlight the proposed $4.6 billion transportation millage that would be on Metro Detroit ballots this fall.

Politico Morning Transportation

By Lauren Gardner and Brianna Gurciullo | 08/04/2016 05:37 AM EDT

With help from Tanya Snyder and Kathryn A. Wolfe

METRO MADNESS: The NTSB released a short report Wednesday chock full of damning details about shoddy track and shirked inspections at Metro. Our Lauren Gardner scoops that WMATA has only been inspecting tracks at crossover points system-wide monthly instead of twice per week as required under the agency's standards. Two cars of a Metro train derailed last week at a crossover point near the East Falls Church station.

WMATA supervisors will now shadow track inspectors during crossover inspections ahead of SafeTrack surges, and those examinations will happen twice a week as required. But it's unclear how the agency shifted to a monthly inspection schedule in the first place. WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel wouldn't comment directly on the NTSB statement, other than to note that the agency's investigation continues.

Not to be outdone: FTA followed up on NTSB's statement with news that it would soon release a report detailing its own investigation of WMATA's "systemic safety deficiencies in the maintenance and repair of track."

Spokesman Paul Kincaid also defensively noted that DOT investigators responded "immediately" to the July 29 derailment and that the department "was the first federal agency" at the scene. (Remember that DOT and FTA took flak from Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia earlier this year for not having federal officials accompany WMATA inspectors on the tracks during the March 16 system shutdown.)

'Useless' standards: Speaking of Connolly, he said in a statement that some of the deteriorations along the tracks were noted as long ago as 2009. "It is not enough to simply have standards on the books," Connolly said. "In this case, Metro had more stringent standards than required by the federal government, but those standards are useless if they are not carried out each and every day and enforced from top to bottom."

IT'S THURSDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Reach out: or @brigurciullo, or @Gardner_LM, or@JAScholtes and or @TSnyderDC.

"I'm sitting in the railway station. Got a ticket for my destination. On a tour of one-night stands. My suitcase and guitar in hand. And every stop is neatly planned. For a poet and a one-man band."

LATOURETTE DIES AFTER CANCER BATTLE: Former GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio died Wednesday at the age of 62 after fighting pancreatic cancer, according to several media reports. LaTourette was a well-known transportation booster, especially for his northeastern Ohio district, and did stints on the House Transportation and Appropriations committees before retiring in 2013.

He was also famous for his biting sense of humor, whether he was playfully suggesting a Cabinet secretary was under the influence for elevating biking to the same level of importance as vehicles in transportation planning, or blasting his colleagues for not putting in what he felt was an adequate amount of effort into writing the 2012 transportation bill.

WHO COULD IT BE? Even with all the uncertainties that have come with this 2016 election, Democrats are starting to bat around candidates for a Hillary Clinton Cabinet. POLITICO's Edward-Isaac Dovere has a rundown of possible names for a Clinton administration, with Transportation secretary one of the more amorphous picks. Insiders have mentioned former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta as potential candidates for the job.

As for Homeland Security secretary, Isaac reports: "Though obviously one of the more important jobs in the administration, the idea of who would fill it stumps people. The most common name brought up here is Martin O'Malley, who has experience that could fit into the position, but most expect that his aggressive attacks on Clinton in his presidential campaign that never got anywhere off the ground, coupled with his refusal to endorse her for months, has sunk him in Clintonworld."

MT readers, what chatter have you heard about the heads of DOT and DHS under a new administration? Send us tips:,, or

MORE METRO MAYHEM: Another bombshell out of Metro dropped Wednesday, though not in the rail safety realm: The Washington Post reports that a Metro Transit Police officer was arrested Wednesday for allegedly trying to provide material support to the Islamic State. The officer, Nicholas Young, served on the force since 2003 - and had been surveilled by the FBI since 2010.

From The Post: "Young, at the request of an undercover federal agent, sent codes for mobile messaging cards that Young believed would be used by Islamic State fighters overseas to communicate, according to an indictment filed in federal court in Alexandria, Va." The codes were worth $245.

No threat to D.C.: According to a memo from Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld to the WMATA board and obtained by WAMU, Young was not perceived as a threat to the transit system. The FBI's monitoring of him predated Wiedefeld's tenure, though he wrote that he was notified of the case before he took the job last year.

But House Oversight Republicans are demanding answers from Metro on whether there were any limits on Young's access to sensitive materials or locations, as well as whether WMATA has processes in place to ensure periodic background checks on current workers. "It is unclear from the complaint and related media coverage what safeguards, if any, were put in place by MTPD or the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to ensure Mr. Young was not a threat to the safety of transit system riders during the time he was under surveillance," they wrote in a letter to Wiedefeld.

You're fired: In case you were wondering, Young was fired upon his arrest. And Wiedefeld also axed the operator of a train who ran a red signal last week outside of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station, citing "reasons related to the individual's personnel history" - read, he or she had a history of issues.

A TRAIN IS NOT A PLANE: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson defended rail security at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday, saying security at train stations doesn't need to function like airport checkpoints. "A train is not like an airplane. A train and a train station is much less confined space," Johnson said in response to a question from a reporter, adding that major commuter rail services have their own security forces.

Even so, Johnson said TSA does have a "rail security mission" and his department is requiring more canine teams for responses at train stations. "I do not believe that we should embrace the full extent of aviation security for rail security where everybody has to go through a checkpoint at Union Station or Penn Station or 30th Street station," Johnson said. "There is considerable security around inter-city rail travel, particularly in the Northeast though. A lot of it is unseen."

SEARCH, RESCUE ... AND FIGHT THE FAA: The White House held a drone roundtable earlier this week that showed off the gee whiz stuff drones can do, like searching for missing people. But it wasn't so long ago that the FAA dropped the hammer on a Texas nonprofit for doing just that. Our Tanya Snyder caught up with Gene Robinson of Texas EquuSearch to talk about what the FAA's new commercial drone rule means for his outfit.

"When there is no regulation, there is nothing that you can ask a waiver for," Robinson told Tanya. The new rules will allow him to stop asking permission for the things he's already been doing under an exemption (though they're still restrictive). "This is a baby-steps thing for the FAA," Robinson said. He's pushing for permission to fly at night and farther away. That way, he can keep searching for people "and nobody would get snakebit, nobody would get poison ivy and no one would fall off the cliff."

IN CASE YOU NEED BACKUP: Google released a monthly report on its self-driving car project, focusing on what its vehicles would do if their equipment experienced a glitch. The company said it simulates problems like loose cables, shorted wires, power outages and software bugs. When moving, the car's cameras, lasers and radars back each other up. And if the main computer in a car malfunctions, there's a secondary computer that can take over.

The secondary computer's "sole responsibility is to monitor the main computer and, if needed, safely pull over or come to a complete stop," Google says. "It can even account for things like not stopping in the middle of an intersection where it could cause a hazard to other drivers."

'Minor damage': One of Google's prototypes was rear ended in Los Altos, Calif., last month, the tech giant reported. The car was stopped at a stop sign when another car traveling at less than 10 mph hit it, leaving the rear hatch and sensor with "minor damage." No one was injured.

FMCSA: BE SAFE WHEN YOU VAPE: FMCSA is urging commercial bus and trucking companies and their drivers to be cognizant of the risks associated with bringing e-cigarettes on board. The agency published a safety advisory Wednesday calling on them to "exercise good judgment and appropriate discretion in their possession, storage, charging or use on, around or while operating a [commercial motor vehicle], and adhere to the smoking prohibitions on, near or when loading and unloading a motor vehicle transporting hazardous materials."

WELL, THIS IS TERRIFYING: You thought it was scary last July when two security experts remotely hacked into a Jeep, paralyzing it in the middle of the highway? Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have done it again, only this time at much faster than 5 mph. According to InformationWeek's Dark Reading blog , the pair hacked a Jeep Cherokee going as fast as 60 mph and made the wheel turn 90 degrees, sending the vehicle into a ditch. The security fix invented by the duo and Jeep after their first experiment would have prevented the hack. This time around, Miller and Valasek were both in the car, with the hack happening on a laptop in the backseat. But they say they could have done it remotely, as they did last time.


- Emirates plane catches fire in Dubai; hundreds escape, 1 firefighter killed. CNN.

- West Virginia amends complaint over Volkswagen emissions. The Associated Press.

- Court ruling on Purple Line could set back light-rail construction. The Washington Post.

- The brilliant sorcery of England's seven-circle magic roundabout. Wired.

- Tesla loss grows as it falls short of sales goals. The Associated Press.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 56 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 421 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 95 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,521 days.


1 p.m. - The NHTSA holds a meeting of the Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services, with a focus on addressing SAFETEA-LU requirements. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.

Did we miss an event? Let MT know at

To view online:

Stories from POLITICO Pro

WMATA shirked track inspection duties ahead of derailment Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/03/2016 03:51 PM EDT

WMATA has only been inspecting tracks at crossover points across the Metrorail system - like the one where a train derailed last week - monthly instead of twice a week as required under its standards, the NTSB said today.

WMATA supervisors will now join track inspectors during examinations of crossover areas in advance of SafeTrack surges, NTSB said in its final statement on the incident, which was provided first to POLITICO. The agency will go back to inspecting crossovers twice a week as required, and they will be included in main line track automated inspections, the board said.

"Somehow they started following a monthly inspection schedule," NTSB spokesman Christopher O'Neil told POLITICO.

NTSB's limited investigation of the July 29 derailment found there were 1 3/4 inches of space beyond what's acceptable between rails, a condition known as "wide gauge."

NTSB investigators also identified "a severe defective tie condition in the accident area" and noted "more than 30 feet of track with no effective crossties" in the area of the Orange and Silver lines where the derailment occurred, according to the statement.

Board staff today briefed congressional aides to members of the regional delegation, as well as staffers on transportation safety-related committees. A Metro spokesman declined to comment.

A meeting today with Metro managers was called by General Manager Paul Wiedefeld "to underscore their authority to call for reduced speeds or taking sections of track out of service if and when they see something," one source briefed on the investigation said.


FTA: Report coming 'soon' on WMATA track repair issues Back

By Lauren Gardner | 08/03/2016 04:11 PM EDT

FTA will soon release an investigative report on WMATA's systemic problems addressing track integrity issues, a spokesman said today after an NTSB statement noted Metrorail's system-wide failure to inspect crossover tracks as often as required.

"DOT was the first federal agency to respond to the derailment," FTA spokesman Paul Kincaid said in a statement. "DOT's preliminary findings from the derailment are consistent with the findings from the Track Integrity Investigation that the FTA WMATA Safety Oversight Team conducted earlier this year as part of its Safety Blitz. The investigation revealed systemic safety deficiencies in the maintenance and repair of track."

The report will include a safety directive requiring actions for WMATA to take to guarantee safety across the system, Kincaid said.

NTSB has made waves at DOT for recommending that FRA, rather than FTA, oversee safety at WMATA.


Insiders game out Clinton's Cabinet Back

By Edward-Isaac Dovere | 08/03/2016 05:39 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton's circle insists any real talk about who might, if she wins, join her in the White House and in her Cabinet is far too premature.

But that hasn't stopped the conversations.

There was former Rep. Barney Frank telling Vice President Joe Biden he should be Clinton's Defense secretary ("He made a face," Frank said, in an interview off the convention floor last week in Philadelphia). There was former Attorney General Eric Holder looking right at Clinton running mate runner-up Tom Perez at one of the Maryland delegation breakfasts as he told the crowd, "if you elect Donald Trump, Chris Christie or Jeff Sessions will be your attorney general," according to a person in the room, but "if, on the other hand, you elect Hillary Clinton, I know exactly who it should be."

Few of the discussions have been aired quite so publicly. It's mainly Clinton advisers and allies starting to size up possibilities, top Democrats in Washington and beyond batting names back and forth, wondering with varying levels of certainty about who might go where.

Still, Democrats hovering between cautious optimism and nervous confidence over the look of a prospective Clinton administration, are starting to put together names.

They factor in Clinton's promise to have a Cabinet that's at least 50 percent female if she's president, and the thin bench of prominent Democratic politicians -- which could make it difficult to assemble a better known first-term Cabinet like George W. Bush and Barack Obama put together. Clinton's history of surrounding herself with people she's had long relationships with, and the balance of potential continuity with the Obama administration versus the need to chart her own direction are additional wrinkles. Then there are the more abstract but equally important considerations, like perhaps wanting to appoint the first openly LGBT Cabinet secretary and weighing other diversity considerations.

Here's POLITICO's rundown of some of the most prominent chatter, based on conversations with top Democrats, people who speak regularly to Clinton and her senior aides, as well as leaders in their respective fields.

Chief of staff

Most people see this as a choice between Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff at the State Department, and Tom Nides, Clinton's deputy secretary of state for management. Both have remained close to Clinton, with Mills acting as part of the extremely small inner circle on the running mate decision, and Nides as one of the closest outside advisers. Mills, notably, would be the first female White House chief of staff as well as the first African-American, and is seen as one of the smartest and most trusted people in Clinton's orbit. But she'd also face at least outside questions about her judgment on the email server and other issues that came up at State. Nides would have the advantage of many long relationships in Washington, which Clinton is said to value in an expected effort to focus more on outreach to Capitol Hill than Obama did.

Also very much in the conversation, however: Tom Vilsack, the only Cabinet secretary to have remained in the same spot for all eight years under Obama. He'd come at the job with that experience in Agriculture and in Washington, his political experience as governor of Iowa, and perhaps most importantly, his deep relationship with the Clintons. That all made him the darkhorse late in the running mate search-but people who know Vilsack wonder whether he'd be interested in going back to a staffer role, however prominent.

Press secretary

Brian Fallon, who's also done time at the Department of Justice and with incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, is seen as the likely choice.

National security adviser

Jake Sullivan, who worked for Clinton at State and then as national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, is seen as having first dibs on this job if he wants it. But with the expanded portfolio he's built up on Clinton's campaign over the last year, some believe he might go for a more amorphous senior adviser role in one of the other offices along the hallway to the Oval Office.

Senior advisers

In addition to Sullivan, most see a mix here that could include Minyon Moore, one of the aides with the longest and deepest relationships to Clinton; Jennifer Palmieri, who's rocketed up in her trust and closeness with Clinton since joining the campaign after a run as Obama's White House communications director; closest aide of all Huma Abedin; and Neera Tanden, an adviser with deep ties to Clinton who is now president of the Center for American Progress, the outside think tank founded by Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Tanden is also seen as a potential domestic policy adviser, a role that could also be filled by senior campaign policy advisers Ann O'Leary and Maya Harris. Campaign manager Robby Mook and political engagement director Marlon Marshall are also speculated to have senior roles with Clinton if she's elected.

Secretary of state

For obvious reasons, this is seen as the job Clinton will think most about-potentially empowering the pick, or potentially leading to an extra level of oversight at Foggy Bottom from the West Wing. Clinton's seen as being intrigued by having a person in the role who has elected experience, but there's no obvious contender from the House and Senate (except for current Secretary of State John Kerry, whom people expect would leap at the chance to stay on, though probably would suffer from Clinton wanting to have her own pick in this job most of all). People at the State Department and elsewhere are pulling for Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs and key player in the Iran deal, and Bill Burns, a career diplomat who was deputy secretary of state. Kurt Campbell's seen as being eagerly in the mix as well, a career foreign officer who rose to undersecretary of state for political affairs in Bush's second term and has been a strong defender of Clinton in the campaign. Strobe Talbott, the friend of the Clintons and deputy secretary of state during Bill Clinton's first term and now the president of the Brookings Institute, is also seen as a possibility. Or Clinton might go for a surprise like James Stavridis, the admiral who was the only non-politician to be vetted for her running mate.

Defense secretary

The far and away favorite here is Michèle Flournoy, who was talked about for the job the last time Obama had an opening and would be the first woman in the position. She led defense transition planning for Obama, was then his undersecretary of defense for policy and has since started the Center for a New American Security. Also on the list: Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, who's talked about for this job pretty much every time it comes open, and Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Some see an outside shot here for Eric Fanning, Obama's new secretary of the Army.

Treasury secretary

The list here is long and complicated. The Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders axis is watching this appointment for proof of Clinton's commitment to the progressive economics she's been talking up on the campaign, while business leaders and Republicans are worried about exactly that. The sense among people in the know is that Clinton would want someone with some private sector though not Wall Street experience, to have the competing perspective on regulation. There's considerable speculation here that Clinton would try to land Sheryl Sandberg, who spent years at Treasury before heading to Silicon Valley and becoming COO of Facebook, to be the first female Treasury secretary. Gary Gensler, who served in a variety of economic roles for Obama and Bill Clinton and is now CFO for the campaign is seen as wanting the job, as is Lael Brainard, another Treasury veteran who's now on the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors. Some see a potential transition here for current Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, though the expectation is she'd want a break after her years working for Obama. Also bouncing around on some lists: Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council under both Bill Clinton and Obama, who remains close with the Clintons, is advising the campaign and even starred in a funny video knocking Trump played at the convention. There's also been some talk of Clinton best friend and Terry McAuliffe here, though that might enrage the left-and would also entail his leaving job as Virginia governor a year early.

Attorney general

Tom Perez wanted this job and was considered for it in the process that led to Loretta Lynch, and that interest still appears to be alive and well. He'd be a prominent carryover from the Obama administration, where he was credited internally for helping push forward on executive action while also keeping good relationships with the Hill. In an important prerequisite for this job, he has developed a trust and rapport with Clinton which had a lot to do with his unexpectedly strong showing in the veepstakes. There's some thought that Janet Napolitano, the former Arizona governor and state attorney general who left as Obama's homeland security secretary after years of waiting to be attorney general, might want back in from her current job running the University of California system. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who previously served as her state's attorney general, is seen as a possibility, as is Tony West, the former No. 3 in Obama's Justice Department, and Jamie Gorelick, the former deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton. There's also some speculation that Vilsack, who's a lawyer but has never held a position focused on the law in government, could fit here. Preet Bharara, the hard-charging United States attorney in New York, has long been seen as having his eyes on this job-but people close to Clinton point out that he might have proven himself a little too hard-charging and independent to be someone she'd want in this job.

Energy secretary

John Podesta got pulled back in as an adviser to Obama, and then as Clinton's campaign chairman. What do you get for the man who's done all that and has already been White House chief of staff? He's seen as having his eyes here, which would allow him both to get his hands deep into an area he's grown passionate about over the years, and to live not as a staffer, but as a principal himself-and one who presumably would have a lot of latitude in a Clinton administration to make his own decisions.

Education secretary

John King just took over the job this year, leading many to believe that he'd be a perfect candidate for a holdover into a Clinton administration. He was Arne Duncan's number two, and before that the state commissioner in New York. Just departed D.C. schools chancellor Kaya Henderson is also seen as a contender here, as is King's predecessor as deputy, Jim Shelton. And outgoing Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, meanwhile, has openly had his eyes on this job for years.

Commerce secretary

Many see this as McAuliffe's more likely eventual landing spot, but he's not the only one. Export-Import Bank president Fred Hochberg is seen as interested and, in addition to the experience he'd bring, is openly gay. Then there's the list of business executives who've been in their jobs for long enough to be looking at retirement-a bill that could be fit by a person like General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, a registered Republican who chaired Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Health and Human Services secretary

If Clinton wins, this would be a central job, tasked with cementing Obamacare and getting through a potential next stage of problems and expansion. Insiders are at a loss to think of an obvious candidate to do it, though. There's some speculation that former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who oversaw one of the most successful state implementations in a reliably Republican state, could be a possibility, though some around Clinton suggest that this might be a good spot to lean toward more of an inside player than a familiar face. That has some conversations tilting toward Neera Tanden, a key player on Obamacare during its development and passage.

Transportation secretary

Moving further down the list of prominent Cabinet spots, fewer specific names are being discussed -- and the conversations tilt even further into speculation -- but two of the names floating: former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who was thought of for this position under Obama and just headed a successful convention effort for his party, and Federal Aviation Administration head Michael Huerta.

Housing and Urban Development secretary

Nutter's also discussed as a possibility here, with Clinton and her aides seen as interested in leaning in to an emphasis on cities, and drawing on urban experience. That's also led to some conversations about former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who came into politics as a housing advocate, represented several public housing developments in office, and has been working with the campaign.

Labor secretary

Granholm is seen as a fit here too-like Perez under Obama, she'd be someone with reliable liberal credentials who could help both in developing policy and in being a surrogate/salve to the left. Some on the Hill are already pining for Ed Montgomery, a deputy Labor secretary under Clinton and member of Obama's auto task force.

Interior secretary

John Hickenlooper is thought to be a consideration. Like Obama's first Interior secretary Ken Salazar, he comes from the Colorado, and did well enough in the running mate vet that he got an interview with Clinton. His history on fracking, though, may be a killer with environmental groups.

Homeland Security secretary

Though obviously one of the more important jobs in the administration, the idea of who would fill it stumps people. The most common name brought up here is Martin O'Malley, who has experience that could fit into the position, but most expect that his aggressive attacks on Clinton in his presidential campaign that never got anywhere off the ground, coupled with his refusal to endorse her for months, has sunk him in Clintonworld.

Agriculture secretary

Most people paying attention haven't gotten anywhere near this far down the list of possible Cabinet picks. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow is mentioned, but without any sense so far of serious consideration.

Veterans Affairs secretary

If Rep. Tammy Duckworth doesn't win the Illinois Senate seat that she's favored to take from Mark Kirk, she could be in discussion again-she is, after all, a former VA undersecretary who was talked about as a possibility after Eric Shinseki resigned. The depth of bureaucratic disaster that Bob McDonald's been digging out from might make this a position where Clinton could opt for continuity, and he hasn't been on the job long. But Sloan Gibson, the current deputy secretary and former USO CEO who served as interim secretary between Shinseki and McDonald, might make a reasonable bridge himself. There's also the chance that Clinton might opt for someone recently out of uniform (like Shinseki was) though with all that's come to light about the problems in the agency, there'd probably be more emphasis on specific departmental management in making the pick than there was when Obama went that direction.


Johnson: Rail security doesn't need to work like aviation Back

By Brianna Gurciullo | 08/03/2016 11:32 AM EDT

Despite recent terror attacks on transportation hubs overseas, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said today that rail security doesn't need to function like aviation security.

"A train is not like an airplane," Johnson said, responding to a question about the disparity between security in the two modes at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

He said a train station is a "much less confined space." He added that major commuter rail services have their own security forces and local police are nearby, pointing to the Northeast as a region with particularly strong security.

Johnson said the TSA does dedicate resources to rail and his department has required more canine teams as a part of beefing up rail stations.



POLITICO Pro Q&A: Gene Robinson, drone specialist for Texas EquuSearch Back

By Tanya Snyder | 08/03/2016 02:14 PM EDT

The FAA is on the cusp of implementing new rules intended to accelerate permitted commercial uses of drones - including for search and rescue operations, a use that once landed a Texas nonprofit in some serious hot water. With more drone regulations around the corner, and praise for drone search and rescue on the White House's lips at a roundtable earlier this week, POLITICO checked in with that nonprofit, which once was in the center of a media firestorm.

Texas EquuSearch, a search and rescue organization, had been using drones since 2005 to find missing people - sometimes with authorization, sometimes without. In 2014, when the FAA ordered them to stop, EquuSearch sued the agency; the lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality.

Now the feds are highlighting search and rescue capabilities as a way to boost drone technology. At that roundtable, an Interior Department official showed images of drones operating up against steep, forbidding cliffs "where you wouldn't want to put a helicopter." Intel CEO Brian Krzanich pushed the government further than even the new regulations allow, using search and rescue as an example of why pilots should be allowed to fly multiple drones at a time. "If it was you who was lost in the forest or out in the desert," he asked, wouldn't you like to have "one person show up and send 100 drones out to search for you?"

Now that the page has turned and the feds seem to be on board with the kind of operation Texas EquuSearch got in trouble for just a few years ago, we caught up with Gene Robinson, who flies drone missions for the outfit, to talk about the FAA's latest actions.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

The FAA just put out some new regulations on the use of drones. Would those regulations have changed things a few years ago, when the FAA prohibited you from using drones for search and rescue?

Most certainly would have. If you look outside the United States and see the technological advances that are being made in the drone field where there is less regulation, it would be very apparent what would have happened had we had some sort of reasonable, common sense regulation that we could have operated under two, three years ago - much less 12 years ago when I started this.

If drones are considered a force multiplier for the military, why wouldn't we be able to use a force multiplier for our first responders?

What's it like to use a drone instead of having to trek into the mountains?

Imagine being way out in the country, or way out in the woods, and not able to get any air support at all, no helicopters - or maybe you work for a small agency and you can't afford to have a helicopter come in. But you know you have a person out there that's missing and they need your help. What would you do?

If you can't get a full-scale helicopter, and you can't get a full-scale airplane, you do the next best thing - you do something that will give you that bird's eye view.

Have you found people with drones that you weren't able to find without them?

We have recovered people that the full-scale helicopters have flown over and said: "They're not there."

Why was the drone able to see it when the helicopter wasn't?

Consider this: You're in a helicopter, you're flying around - even if you're doing, say, 35 miles an hour, you got a headset on, you got a limited view, you got all sorts of noise, vibration, the pilot's talking, you're talking - been there, done that, so I know. There are a lot of distractions.

I can take a very high-resolution digital photograph, and I can put it in front of you, ma'am, and you could look at that for just a few minutes and tell me if there's something that didn't belong in that picture. We'll go out with our drone and take as many as 200, 300 pictures to cover a square mile of inaccessible territory.

And what are those things that don't belong that you're looking for, besides a human being?

A backpack, a tennis shoe, a shred of T-shirt. You see footprints.

You can see that from the drone?

Yes ma'am. We did a search where we saw footprints in a plowed field. An individual went missing and we found out which direction they were going, we traced the footprints, and we found a low-water bridge where he'd stopped and actually written his child's name on the bridge abutment. And that told us we were in the right spot.

We continued down that road, and we found some people who had picked him up and taken him to a hospital. He didn't know who he was - he had dementia - the family had to come and say, "This is our guy."

Do you normally find people alive?

Unfortunately, because of our inability to use drones, we're always the last to be called in. When the police give up - when they say they've got to stop because they've been searching for seven days and they've been spending $50,000 a day; their search budget is used up - they say, "OK, drone guys, you want to come in? Give it a shot." And we go up there, and we fly around and we go, "Uhh, excuse me? Did you miss this one?" I can't tell you how many times that's happened.

And then it's too late.

Of course it's too late. But I will say that in last few years, that has gotten better. There are more and more people that say, "Yeah, bring it on; we'll coordinate with manned aircraft. We'll get this area imaged." That's what you need to do.

Tell me what the FAA told you when they grounded you.

We've been working with the FAA since 2006 - or trying to work with FAA. We tried to develop a training program, proficiencies, the whole nine yards that you had to go through. Then Feb. 13, 2007, was the day of the great clarification. And that clarification was: All drones are grounded. They said, "Don't worry about it; you'll be flying in six to eight months, max." So we trusted them. A year later, nothing.

Then the following year, I applied for a certificate of authorization, which I got. We were the first civilian entity to get a certificate of authorization. We had gone to a search where a child was missing and said we were going to go search it and the FAA inspector says, "No, you're not going to do that." They sent a cease and desist to me over email.

Even though you had a COA?

It was outside my COA area. Our COA area was just outside of Austin and the search area we were going to work in was just outside of Dallas.

Is there a similar authorized entity in or near Dallas that could have done this?

No. I was the only one in United States that was doing this sort of search and rescue work with drones. It was that way for a long time and now suddenly there's a bunch of people out there who are experts. We filed a suit. Of course it got dismissed on a technicality.

So were you able to search for that child?

I plead the fifth. What did come out of that case was that they changed the role of the aviation service inspectors. An ASI now may only advise and educate - they can't seize anything; they can't take any documents. You used to have to surrender your documents. It was the ASI who sent me the cease and desist email. He overstepped his bounds on that one.

They said just that you can't fly in Dallas.

No, they used very general terms - "You will cease and desist those operations."

They threw out your lawsuit, so that left you unable to use drones, but it seems like you have continued. How did that happen?

I would happily stand in front of a jury of my peers and say, "Yes, I made every effort possible to go save that child."

But you've used drones routinely as part of your work, right? In violation of FAA guidance.

I have a 333 exemption that allows me to fly. The 333 exemptions were available about 18 months ago. I didn't get my exemption until August or September of last year.

There was a time between your lawsuit getting thrown out in July 2014 and you getting your 333 exemption that you were not able to fly. And you were not using drones in that time?

Of course I wasn't.

Of course you weren't.


So the new regulations, Part 107, is that enough to give you blanket permission to do your work?

Yes ma'am.

It has a lot of caveats - it's only in the daytime, it's only at a certain speed at a certain height, only in unpopulated areas, devices of 55 pounds and under. ... But it still enough for you to do what you need to do?

You've got to understand. When there is no regulation, there is nothing that you can ask a waiver for. When Part 107 becomes law at the end of this month, then you can legally ask for a waiver that they must consider for all those caveats that you just talked about - line of sight, night flying, all that stuff.

One of the things that I have pushed, and I'm going to get it - for public safety and public service - is exigent circumstances. Much like an ambulance doesn't necessarily have to stop at a red light. Or a fire truck - would you want them to go the speed limit when your house is on fire? Those are exigent circumstances.

There's not much difference between Part 107 and my 333 exemption other than the fact that I can ask for a waiver. I can put in for an exception to my 333 and it would take anywhere from six to 18 months to get it processed.

My 333 - I can fly two aircraft, and it states which two I can fly. But since so many people applied for so many different aircraft and they approved them, they've come back with a statement saying if an aircraft is on approved FAA list, you can fly it under your 333 exemption. You don't have to apply for an exception for that.

Same with 107. You know, this is a baby-steps thing for the FAA. They're doing a little bit at a time. They're getting a tremendous amount of pressure from Congress. This is money. There's huge money in the drone industry. China is killing it. And a big part of it is, we're so far behind and we've been held behind because of regulation.

Twelve years ago, you had guys that had a manned bias. They're there to regulate manned aircraft, not drones. But a lot of the old guard is retiring out. And we're getting young people in there that get it. And I'm 60 years old.

So your 333 will become obsolete at the end of this month because Part 107 will come into effect and will allow as matter of right what the 333 allowed you to do by exemption. And then you can ask for a waiver. What waivers will be useful to you?

The first and most immediate one will be nighttime operations. I have a Chinese quadcopter that has a flare on it. The camera alone is three times the price of the little 'copter. And it works wonderfully at night. I had a recovery of a 54-year-old dementia patient, just a few weeks ago, at night. Caught him in the woods. He was going to commit suicide, and I caught him before he did it.

So you did that at night. Are you allowed to do that?

You caught me.

Am I going to get you in trouble if I publish this?

You know, they know me. I claim exigent circumstances. If I have an incident commander tell me, "I need this," and I say, "OK, we're taking responsibility for this flight," and he says, "Yep, I'm out to save a life; screw the FAA" - I can't tell you how many times I've heard that very statement from some of the most elite law enforcement agencies in the United States.

Nighttime flying, anything else?

Yes. Beyond line of sight. But if we have a good position, we can cover one square mile in the line of sight. It would take 10 searchers about a day to really efficiently cover one square mile. We can do that with a drone in 25 minutes.

And then to analyze the pictures?

That would take a couple hours. But if you have 200 images and 20 people to look at them, it'd be done in 20 minutes.

And nobody would get snakebit, nobody would get poison ivy, and no one would fall off the cliff.