The current poster boy for incompetent Biden appointees and subordinates who are apparently immune from firing is Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Like so many in this administration, Buttigieg was hired to please a Democratic Party constituency, not because there was any reason to believe he would be good at his job. He was an ineffective mayor of a small city: that gave him neither experience in key transportation systems or a background in running a large bureaucracy. Buttigieg’s sole qualifications for the Cabinet position were and are that he is openly gay and in a same-sex marriage, making him “historic.” I know, I know: I don’t understand how where you want to put your whackadoodle makes you better at keeping the trains running on time either, but that’s apparently the theory.
To call Buttigieg a disaster in his job would be too kind. The supply chain fell apart on his watch. Shortly after taking over his 58,000-employee department, a supply chain breakdown damaged businesses, harmed consumers and fueled inflation. Meanwhile, the DOT Secretary has prioritized touch-feely DEI measures above actually overseeing the transportation systems. In the midst of the worst of the supply chain crisis, he took two months paternity leave. Throughout Buttigieg’s tenure, railroads had been unable to reach an agreement with the dozen labor unions representing their workers. Buttigieg was vacationing in Portugal when a rail strike seemed imminent in September, so Labor Secretary Marty Walsh stepped in to avert one. So far.
When soaring gas prices made highway transportation too expensive for many Americans, Buttigieg’s contribution was to lecture us on the need to buy electric cars. A system wide collapse at Southwest Airlines resulted in thousands of flight cancellations and delays over the holidays, stranding thousands of travelers. A primary cause was inadequate oversight of the airlines by the agencies under Buttigieg’s command. Then this week, a safety system outage forced the Federal Aviation Administration to temporarily ground all U.S. flights for the first time since the 9/11 attacks.
But wait! There’s more! Buttigieg has also come under fire for his regular use of private government jets, often for less-than-urgent business. President Trump’s first HHS Secretary, Tom Price, was forced to resign over the same habit. Bret Baier asked for Buttigieg’s explanation for his expensive tastes in flight plans to Fox News:
Baier: “You’ve been a big advocate for the environment—the administration’s climate change policy. What do you say to people who ask, is it environmentally responsible to fly on private government jets when commercial options are available?”
Pete: “Well, when we’re making a decision about what kind of aircraft to use, we weigh a lot of things. That’s one of the things we consider. So is saving taxpayers money. Now, I fly the majority of the time in economy class on an airliner, just like everybody else,” Buttigieg claimed. “But there are cases where we use an FAA jet, a jet that’s assigned to my department. I’ll give you an example. I went to Wisconsin recently. This was last year, I think. […] We saved taxpayers $2,000 by using the FAA jet instead of buying those airline tickets.”
Oh. What? The FAA reportedly charges federal agencies $5,000 per hour for the use of a private jet. According to a recent analysis of his flight records, Buttigieg has used private jets 18 times since taking office. How could that possibly save taxpayers money?
Even if the series of transportation-related crises Buttigieg has presided over were just bad luck, past Cabinet members have had the integrity to resign under similar circumstances. These are positions measured by results, and by that measurement, Buttigieg’s tenure has been a failure. One wag noted that he’s been so bad at his job Americans “actually know who the Secretary of Transportation is.” Meanwhile, defenses of Buttigieg have been mainly of the “Republicans pounce” variety. Jill Zuckman, former head of public affairs in the Obama DOT, told Axios that Republicans are criticizing Buttigieg because they see him as a potential presidential candidate. “That’s not how past Transportation secretaries were treated,” she said.
Past Transportation secretaries weren’t this incompetent, Jill.
Why doesn’t Biden replace him, then? Simple: he’s still gay and married to a man. Since that’s why he got the job, the mere fact that he can’t do it very well won’t be enough to justify sacking him. This is the problem that is created when jobs are assigned by tribal memberships rather than demonstrated ability and qualifications. There are too many members of the administration with this lock on their jobs irrespective of their demonstrated incompetence, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ridiculous White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre prime examples.
In fairness, not firing or forcing resignations of under-performing appointees is hardly unique to Joe. Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Carter, Reagan—more Presidents than not have been reluctant and tardy firing failed Cabinet members. Few of those, however, were as frighteningly inept and Pete Buttigieg