Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta died Tuesday of a heart ailment at his home in Edgewater, Md. He was 90 years old.
Mineta became the 14th Secretary of Transportation on January 25, 2001, and would guide transportation security through pivotal transition after the 9/11 attacks.
He was also the first Asian-American Cabinet member during the Clinton administration, and the first Cabinet member to switch directly from a Democratic to a Republican Cabinet. In December 2004, Secretary Mineta accepted President Bush’s invitation to continue his service in the Cabinet during the President’s second term until July 6, 2006
As Secretary of Transportation, Mineta oversaw an agency with almost 60,000 employees and a $61.6 billion budget. Created in 1967, the U.S. Department of Transportation brought under one umbrella air, maritime and surface transportation missions.
During his first four years as Secretary, America achieved the lowest vehicle fatality rate ever recorded, the highest safety belt usage rate ever recorded, and the lowest rail fatality level ever recorded. In addition, Secretary Mineta was instrumental in persuading every state in the country to set a blood alcohol rate at .08 percent, an alcohol level that has proved to be effective in preventing automobile crashes and improving safety.
Secretary Mineta also oversaw the Coast Guard’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, including developing the Sea Marshal Program, Maritime Safety and Security Teams, and expanding the number and mission of Coast Guard Port Security Units.
Secretary Mineta guided the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, an agency of more than 60,000 employees charged with protecting Americans as they travel across our country. Starting from a blank sheet of paper on Nov. 19, 2001, Secretary Mineta led a team that met all 36 mandates set forth by Congress – including screening all airline passengers by the TSA’s first anniversary and all baggage by Dec. 31, 2003. Because of the Secretary’s leadership, the TSA quickly developed into an effective agency that has restored air travelers’ confidence in aviation security following the terrorist attacks. The Transportation Security Administration was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.
Prior to joining President Bush’s administration as Secretary of Transportation, Secretary Mineta served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton. He was vice president of Lockheed Martin Corporation prior to joining the Commerce Department.
From 1975 to 1995, he served as a member of U.S. House of Representatives, representing the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. As a member of Congress, then Representative Mineta was known for his dedication to the people of his district, for consensus building among his colleagues and for forging public-private partnerships. Mineta’s legislative and policy agenda was wide and varied, including major projects in the areas of economic development, science and technology policy, trade, transportation, the environment, intelligence, the budget and civil rights. He co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and served as its first chair.
Mineta served as chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee between 1992 and 1994. He chaired the committee’s aviation subcommittee between 1981 and 1988, and chaired its Surface Transportation Subcommittee from 1989 to 1991. During his career in Congress he championed increases in investment for transportation infrastructure, and was a key author of the landmark Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, which shifted decisions on highway and mass transit planning to state and local governments. ISTEA led to major upsurges in mass transit ridership and more environmentally-friendly transportation projects, such as bicycle paths. He also pressed for more funding for the department’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
After leaving Congress, he chaired the National Civil Aviation Review Commission, which in 1997 issued recommendations on reducing traffic congestion and reducing the aviation accident rate. Many of the commission’s recommendations were adopted by the Clinton administration, including reform of the FAA to enable it to perform more like a business.
Secretary Mineta and his family were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced from their homes and into internment camps during World War II. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Secretary Mineta joined the Army in 1953 and served as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea. He joined his father in the Mineta Insurance Agency before entering politics in San Jose, serving as a member of its City Council from 1967 to 1971 and mayor from 1971 to 1974, becoming the first Asian Pacific American mayor of a major U.S. city. As mayor, he favored greater control of transportation decisions by local government, a position he later championed in ISTEA.
While in Congress, Mineta was the driving force behind passage of H.R. 442, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for and redressed the injustices endured by Japanese Americans during the war. In 1995, George Washington University awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Medal to Mineta for his contributions to the field of civil rights. In 2003, Secretary Mineta received the Panetta Institute’s Jefferson-Lincoln Award for his bipartisan leadership in addressing the nation’s challenges and was selected by the Council of Excellence in Government to receive the Elliot L. Richardson Prize for Excellence and Integrity in Public Service.