Branstad keeps DOT head Richardson in place for now

Governor-elect Terry Branstad has asked Nancy Richardson to remain head of the Iowa Department of Transportation "through the 2011 legislative session." Governor Tom Vilsack appointed Richardson to head the DOT during his second term; she was one of the few department heads Governor Chet Culver kept in place. A Branstad press release with background on Richardson is after the jump. It says she "is a strong leader and we appreciate her willingness to serve in the administration as we continue our nationwide search for a new director."

Perhaps Branstad will take several months to consider DOT candidates from around the country, but he hasn't been using that kind of process for other appointments announced so far. Shortly after the election, he offered the Department of Inspections and Appeals director job to Rod Roberts, who hadn't even applied for the position, let alone competed against other possible appointees in an interview.

My first thought on hearing the news about Richardson was that Branstad has already decided on a new DOT director, but for some reason that person isn't available to start the job until the spring. (The Iowa legislature's 2011 session begins in January; most years, legislators wrap up their work in April.) It could be someone outside Iowa who needs a few months to relocate, or someone who needs to finish a major project in her/his current job, or perhaps a sitting state legislator who doesn't want to step down until after the session.

Alternatively, Branstad may have someone controversial in mind for the DOT position. State department heads must be confirmed by the Iowa Senate. If Branstad appoints Richardson's replacement after the session ends, that person will be able to serve on an interim basis until the Senate considers the nomination in early 2012.

UPDATE: Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht told the Des Moines Register, "We do not have anyone lined up at this time. We are still in the midst of our search, and that is not confined to the borders of Iowa. This is going to be a thorough search to find the right individual." I wonder why Branstad wants a much more lengthy search for this position than for various other important state departments.

While she stays on the job, I hope that Richardson will help persuade Branstad not to back out of a passenger rail project that would connect Iowa City to Chicago via the Quad Cities. Richardson isn't a visionary for alternative modes of transportation, but she supported the Culver administration's efforts to promote passenger rail in Iowa. Branstad said he is reviewing the costs and benefits of the project. The federal government has approved $230 million in funding for the Iowa portion of the rail connection. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has spoken favorably about the project, and Des Moines business leaders hope the Chicago-Iowa City connection will one day be extended through Des Moines and on to Council Bluffs and Omaha.

Republican governors-elect in Ohio and Wisconsin have rejected federal funding for passenger rail projects. That decision is already costing Wisconsin jobs and will cost Ohio economic development opportunities.

Branstad press release of December 14:

(URBANDALE) - Gov.-elect Terry Branstad announced today that Nancy Richardson will be retained as head of Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) in the Branstad/Reynolds administration.

"I am excited today to announce that Nancy Richardson has been asked and accepted the opportunity to remain the head of the Iowa Department of Transportation through the 2011 legislative session," said Branstad. "Nancy has my full faith and confidence, and will be a full partner in my administration. She is a strong leader and we appreciate her willingness to serve in the administration as we continue our nationwide search for a new director."

The Iowa Department of Transportation oversees matters relating to Iowa's transportation systems including highways, bridges, waterways, railways, airports, trails and public transit services. Earlier this year, Richardson announced her plans to retire at the end of 2010. Today's announcement delays that retirement into the spring of 2011.

Nancy Richardson was appointed as the Director of the Iowa DOT in 2005 and served as the Iowa DOT's Operations and Finance Division from 1993 through 2005. Prior to that, Richardson served as director of the Administrative Division, director and deputy director of the Air and Transit Division and transit district representative in the Transit Division.

"I am very grateful that Governor Branstad has asked me to continue as head of the Iowa Department of Transportation," said Richardson. "I am proud of my service and look forward to continuing my work to improve Iowa's infrastructure while promoting safe and efficient travel."

Richardson is active in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and serves as the chair of the Standing Committee on Finance and Administration. Richardson is the immediate past president of the Mississippi Valley Conference of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which is one of AASHTO's four regional groups. Richardson is a graduate of The University of Iowa and has a Bachelor's degree in Social Work.

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