July 15, 2008

Wyden Places Hold on Surface Transportation Board Nominee Husein Cumber

Wyden: "It's not a prize to be won, it's a job to be done."

WASHINGTON, DC - Citing lack of qualifications and Oregon's CORP short line rail dispute, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden announced today that he will object to any unanimous consent agreement—a procedure known as placing a hold—on the nomination of Husein Cumber to the Surface Transportation Board. A former fundraiser for both President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush, Cumber's regulatory experience in transportation is limited to two short-term political appointments at the Department of Transportation.

"The President has nominated Mr. Cumber to work on a vital regulatory board with the capacity to impact our economy, our infrastructure, and the wages of hardworking Americans across the nation," said Wyden. "A seat on the Surface Transportation Board shouldn't be a payoff. It's not a prize to be won - it's a job to be done."

Senator Wyden has asked the STB to intervene in the CORP short line rail dispute in Oregon. The owners of the line have cut and reduced service while attempting to raise rates up to 300% and requesting that the state pay for rail maintenance.

Wyden makes all of his holds public at the time of their issue. His amendment requiring a Senator who places a hold to make it public within six days was included in ethics reform legislation that passed last year.

Excerpts of Wyden's statement opposing the nomination of Cumber is below:

Mr. President, I stand today to object to any unanimous consent agreement in connection with the nomination of Mr. Husein Cumber to be a member of the Surface Transportation Board, or STB. I don't take this action lightly, and I'd like to take a few moments to briefly describe why I am placing a hold on his nomination.

Railroads and transportation infrastructure are the lifeblood of our economy. My home state of Oregon has recently been the victim of a short line railroad that has subverted consumer protections established by Congress in an attempt to reduce service and raise rates. The STB is the last line of defense against companies that are more interested in maximizing profits than they are in their legal obligations as a common carrier.

To be an effective safeguard against this activity, the STB needs board members with in-depth experience and knowledge of a broad range of rate, service and railroad merger issues. The law says that members of the STB should possess professional standing and demonstrated knowledge in the fields of transportation or transportation regulation. I'm very concerned that Mr. Cumber doesn't possess any of these qualities.

Mr. Cumber's nomination requires this body to seriously review his record of accomplishment in light of these requirements and demonstrated abilities. I have compared Mr. Cumber's record with those of other current [and former] members of the STB, and I'd like to share some of my findings with you today.

First, Chairman Charles Nottingham, a licensed attorney. Chairman Nottingham has four years of experience in the Federal Highway Administration working on everything from funding analysis to policy development. He has an additional four years at the state level as the Transportation Commissioner and CEO of Virginia DOT. He was the Counsel to the Committee on Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. Chairman Nottingham is unquestionably qualified for the duties required of a board member and a good example of what the STB needs in a nominee.

Vice Chairman Francis Mulvey, with a PhD in Economics, is likewise qualified. He has legislative experience as the Staff Director for the Railroad Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. He was the Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Rail, Transit, and Special Programs in the Department of Transportation. He was the Assistant Director charged with analyzing transportation issues at the GAO. His experiences outside government are equally valuable: he was the Programs Manager for the National Academy of Sciences, Transportation Research Board. He was also the Vice President for Research with the American Bus Association. Again, Vice Chairman Mulvey is an exemplary member and a model for future nominees.

Mr. President, even a cursory review of current and former board member qualifications makes it clear what kind of nominee this important regulatory body requires. I'd like to bring the Senate's attention now to our current nominee, Mr. Husein Cumber. There are stark differences between what you've just heard and what I'll present to you now.

Mr. Cumber's regulatory experience in transportation is limited to his short tenure as a political appointee at the Department of Transportation - one year as the Deputy Chief of Staff, and some time as the Assistant to the Secretary for Policy. For his private sector expertise, he can point to his year as the spokesman for Florida East Coast Industries. And before that, he was a political fundraiser for President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush. He was what some referred to as a fundraising wunderkind. One story noted that he "devours business cards like most mortals do potato chips." Developing these political relationships, he said, allowed him to "meet some great people and there's going to be a payoff in the end."

The President has nominated Mr. Cumber to work on a vital regulatory board with the capacity to impact our economy, our infrastructure, and the wages of hardworking Americans across the nation. Reviewing the qualifications of other members, be they PhD's, attorneys, or career legislators, I see that broad experience in regulatory, policy, and economic matters surrounding rail transportation is essential. Understanding the common carrier obligation of the rail industry is essential. Advocacy for consumers in the face of enormous pressure from powerful industry representatives is essential.

Mr. Husein Cumber is, by all accounts, a hardworking man. But hard work alone is not sufficient qualification for nomination to the board of an important consumer protection agency. It is also essential that a nominee have demonstrated experience and expertise in the issues that come before the agency.

I recently met with Mr. Cumber to discuss his nomination. I found him to be polite, personable, and eager. I did not, however, find him to be knowledgeable of the critical issues that have come before the STB. His experiences in lobbying and fundraising stand out and will no doubt help him in his future endeavors outside of government. But what's important here is what he's been nominated to do while serving in a government position.

Members of the Surface Transportation Board have to make important decisions affecting our nation's transportation policy from the moment they're sworn in. They don't have time for on-the-job training.

Mr. Cumber's nomination to the STB may in fact be "the payoff in the end" he's been working toward. But a seat on the Surface Transportation Board shouldn't be a payoff. It's not a prize to be won - it's a job to be done. And it's a job to be done by someone armed with credentials and credibility, not by someone armed with only cash and connections.

Mr. President, I am compelled to object to this nomination for the reasons I've provided. My hope is that the Administration will acknowledge the importance of the STB in their search for a qualified nominee and keep looking for one.