Sending Office: Honorable Albio Sires
Current signers: Sires, Payne, Jr., Malinowski, Pascrell, Gottheimer, Pallone, Sherrill, Watson Coleman, Delgado, Grijalva, Beyer, Jr.
I ask that you join me in sending a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General’s (IG) Office requesting a review for possible conflicts of interest between DOT Secretary Chao’s Office and the Office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch
A recent news report published by Politico this week detailed a concerning – and possibly illegal – relationship between the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and that of Leader McConnell. The report (https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/07/elaine-chao-kentucky-officials-grants-028412),
which is a follow-up to a June article about DOT’s preference for Kentucky projects, reveals that the Secretary’s Office has not only prioritized Kentucky DOT project grant applications, but also facilitated face-to-face meetings between Kentucky project sponsors
and the Secretary herself. In fact, the Secretary, sometimes in direct coordination with Leader McConnell’s Office, met four times as often with Kentucky officials than she did with officials from any other state.
According to Politico’s report:
“At least five of [Transportation Secretary] Chao’s meetings with Kentuckians were requested in emails from McConnell’s staffers, who alerted Chao’s staffers which of the officials were “friends” or “loyal supporters,” according to records obtained under
the Freedom of Information Act.
The Department of Transportation has a framework for evaluating proposed projects on their merits through a competitive review process –
not through political favoritism. I am very concerned that the Secretary may be using her role to benefit one state at the expense of other states’ infrastructure projects. In fact, Leader McConnell now appears to be campaigning off the information
published by this article.
Please join me in sending a letter urging the DOT IG’s Office to look into this issue and report on its findings. If you would like to become a cosigner or have any questions about the letter, please contact Jhostyn Duval at 202-225-7919 or
October XX, 2019
Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General
Office of Inspector General
United States Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Inspector General Scovel:
We are writing to express our concern over recent reports regarding Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao’s potential conflicts of interest and the Department’s grants award process, and to ask that your office look into this issue.
On June 10, 2019, the news website Politico published a report which found that Secretary Chao assigned a DOT employee to act as a special intermediary between the Department and her husband’s, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, office. No other state
enjoyed similar attention. In this role, the special intermediary “helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for [Senator] McConnell.” The report found that the intermediary worked to provide Kentucky projects
with special attention – meanwhile, other state officials who wanted to advocate for their own transportation and infrastructure projects had a hard time getting an audience with the Secretary.
On October 7, 2019, Politico published a follow-up report demonstrating that the Secretary’s own meeting schedule shows a clear bias towards Kentucky projects. This most recent report found that several of Secretary Chao’s meetings with Kentucky state officials
were forwarded by staff in Senator McConnell’s office – “At least five of [Secretary] Chao’s 18 meetings with local Kentuckians were requested in emails from McConnell staffers, who alerted [the Secretary’s] staffers which of the officials were “friends” or
“loyal supporters,” according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.”
According to the report, Senator McConnell’s staff typically forwards the meeting requests to Secretary Chao’s former-special intermediary for Kentucky, who has now advanced to become her Chief of Staff. No other state gets as much attention from the Secretary’s
office, and certainly no other state official gets as many opportunities to advocate for their projects to the Secretary herself.
We believe that serving as the Secretary of Transportation and using that role to prioritize project grant applications in her husband’s home state of Kentucky is evidence of a conflict of interest. The Department of Transportation has a framework for evaluating
proposed projects on their merits through a competitive review process. We are troubled to learn that the Secretary is giving Kentucky state officials so much attention, apparently at the expense of other states. We therefore respectfully request that your
office look into this matter and inform us of your findings.
e-Dear Colleague version 2.0