Transportation Building Name Poised for Standoff in Congress

  • House, Senate split on which official deserves recognition
  • Bills would honor groundbreaking former transportation official

Routine legislation to name a federal building has morphed into a standoff between House and Senate lawmakers.

The House is scheduled to vote on a bill (H.R. 4679) this week to name the Transportation Department headquarters after Norman Mineta, the longest serving transportation secretary. Before holding that role under President George W. Bush, he was also the first Asian American cabinet secretary, serving as the head of the Commerce Department under President Bill Clinton, and was a House member from 1975 to 1995.

But the Senate already passed a bill (S. 400) in April to name the same headquarters after William Coleman, the first Black transportation secretary, who served under President Gerald Ford.

The two bills pit the historic-first leaders against one another for lawmaker support.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he chose Mineta for his bill because he was the longest serving secretary of Transportation, worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and led the House transportation panel.

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
Then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta testifies on Capitol Hill in 2006.

“He put a phenomenal amount of his talent and life into transportation infrastructure,” DeFazio told reporters after he introduced the bill. He added that he would be “happy to find something else” to name for Coleman, but “if you’re looking for someone who has an extraordinary outstanding record over decades on transportation it’s Norm Mineta.”

The General Services Administration decided in 2019 to acquire the department’s federal building, located at 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, in Washington, after leasing the property.

The Senate bill garnered bipartisan support from leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee before the chamber passed it by unanimous consent.

CHUCK KENNEDY/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Former Transportation Secretary William Coleman in his office in 2007.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, said Monday he didn’t know the House was voting on a bill to name the building after Mineta and that he was “disappointed.”

“I really thought there was widespread bipartisan support for this,” he said, referring to the bill he sponsored to name the building after Coleman, who died in 2017.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com; Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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