WASHINGTON--Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told his staff Tuesday that he was stepping down, staying until his President Barack Obama's replacement is confirmed. LaHood, from Peoria, is a former Illinois lawmaker--who grew close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel when they both served in the House. LaHood was a champion of high-speed rail and led a campaign against Distracted Driving.
Obama, who got to know LaHood when he was an Illinois senator, said in a statement, "I want to thank Secretary LaHood for his dedication, his hard work, and his years of service to the American people - including the outstanding work he's done over the last four years as Secretary of Transportation. I also want to thank Ray for his friendship.
"Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief. As Secretary of Transportation, he has fought to create jobs and grow our economy by rebuilding our roads, bridges and transit systems. Under his leadership, we have made significant investments in our passenger rail system and laid the groundwork for the high-speed rail network of the future.
"And every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger. I am grateful to Ray for everything he's done, and I wish him only the best going forward.
Obama tapped another Republican, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be his Defense Secretary in his second term; his confirmation hearing is Thursday.
One of LaHood's sons, Darin, is a GOP state senator, representing a Central Illinois district.
Below, the e-mail LaHood sent Tuesday morning, announcing his departure:
From: Message From The Secretary (OST)
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:36 AM
Subject: Second Term Announcement - Thank You for Four Extraordinary Years
TO: All DOT Employees and Contractors
FROM: Ray LaHood
I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.
As I look back on the past four years, I am proud of what we have accomplished together in so many important areas. But what I am most proud of is the DOT team. You exemplify the best of public service, and I truly appreciate all that you have done to make America better, to make your communities better, and to make DOT better.
Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making. We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.
We helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and awarded over $2.7 billion in TIGER grants to 130 transportation projects across the Nation. We have made unprecedented investments in our nation's ports. And we have put aviation on a sounder footing with the FAA reauthorization, and secured funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act to help States build and repair their roads, bridges and transit systems.
And to further secure our future, we have taken transportation into the 21st century with CAFE Standards, NextGen, and our investments in passenger and High-Speed Rail. What's more, we have provided the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with the funding and leadership it needs to prepare a new generation of midshipmen to meet our country's rapidly-evolving defense and maritime transportation needs.
Closer to home, we also have made great strides. In December, the DOT was recognized as the most improved agency in the entire Federal government in the 2012 "Best Places to Work" rankings published by the Partnership of Public Service. Even more impressive, DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19 largest agencies in the government.
Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country. DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward. Now is not the time to let up - we still have a number of critical safety goals to accomplish and still more work to do on the implementation of MAP-21.
I've told President Obama, and I've told many of you, that this is the best job I've ever had. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I'm confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future.
Thank you, and God bless you.