Here’s something to ponder now that you’ve burned loads of fuel waiting at Delaware’s I-95 toll plaza over Memorial Day weekend: getting traffic through the state efficiently is so important to Governor Jack Markell that he’s just nominated an political operative with little or no management experience as our transportation secretary. Some say his choice is further proof of Markell’s positioning for a presidential run in 2016.
Markell’s pick is Mr. Shailen Bhatt, a thirty-something originally from Ontario, Canada, who spent most of 2008 as a paid Obama campaign organizer in Kentucky and North Carolina. Running voter registration drives and opening field offices – fabulous training for managing billion-dollar transportation projects smack in the middle of the critical New York-D.C. corridor.
Did Markell think to ask Bhatt what he would do if Bhatt got a call to run ground ops for Obama’s 2012 campaign? Or if Bhatt planned to keep his D.C. pad while toiling in Dover? Probably not.
While Bhatt is coming off of a nearly two-year stint at the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), his title was the amorphous ‘assistant administrator for policy and government affairs.’ Inside-the-Beltway folks know this job largely consists of glad-handing and schmoozing at endless transportation industry events. Interestingly, Markell’s press release only mentions that Bhatt is an FHA ‘assistant administrator’, omitting the informative part of his title.
Let’s be fair – Bhatt’s probably a whiz at giving Powerpoint presentations; likely the key factor in Markell’s decision. Actual experience in overseeing the timely and on-budget construction of highway projects? Nah, who needs that?
Earlier, Bhatt had a political job in Kentucky as the deputy executive director for the transportation secretary – but that seems not to have been a hands-on highway construction management job either.
Why am I carping on the need for management experience? Well, just the other day DelDOT admitted that it ignored state law when it purchased $17.3 million of land for a new highway. This was merely the latest entry in a long series of funny business involving DelDOT’s land deals. Gov. Markell was so outraged that earlier this year he issued a 53 page report (a report!), citing a lack of “necessary judgment and competence” at the agency. Meanwhile the FBI is investigating, and lawsuits are flying fast and furious.
And to correct this lack of “necessary judgment and competence” Markell taps an Obama administration schmoozer to run the show, who says his most important DelDOT job in the next few months will be “listening to people.”
Perhaps when the revolving door turns and Bhatt returns to D.C., we’ll get a tough guy or gal to clean up DelDOT’s mess. But don’t hold your breath.