The Bush White House must move quickly to name the second-term roster of administration officials who will deal with the auto industry.
The White House can't afford to delay dealing with issues that affect business at home and abroad.
Domestic hot topics include fuel economy, emissions and safety regulations, along with the nagging question of health care costs. Global issues include currency valuations, trade restrictions, ease of entry into emerging markets and the escalating price of steel.
First-stringers on the administration's automotive team are: Secretary of energy. Spencer Abraham headed the Department of Energy in Bush's first term. Now he has thrown in the towel. The former U.S. senator from Michigan championed FreedomCAR, a project that was supposed to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles. That must be re-thought. Secretary of transportation. Under Norman Mineta, the corporate average fuel economy standard for trucks rose a smidgen - the first increase in more than eight years. More must be done to improve fuel economy, even if it means moving beyond CAFE. NHTSA administrator. Under Dr. Jeffrey Runge, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a review of federal safety standards to determine which were outdated and could come off the books. Runge also criticized SUVs for their propensity to roll over. His jawboning has had some impact; most SUVs soon will have stability control as standard equipment. EPA administrator. Current EPA head Michael Leavitt has been on the job for only a year. In the second term, the EPA must mandate lower sulfur levels in diesel fuel. The agency also must deal with California's attempt to impose more stringent greenhouse-gas tailpipe restrictions. That is a de facto attempt to raise vehicles' fuel economy.
Also important to the industry are: Secretary of the treasury. Automakers need currency relief, especially from China, which first-term Treasury Secretary John Snow didn't get. And the yen must strengthen against the dollar. Secretary of commerce. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans demanded that the Chinese government crack down on businesses that manufacture counterfeit auto parts. Now Evans is leaving; his successor must demand results. U.S. trade representative. The UAW pressed Robert Zoellick to impose sanctions on China because of what the union considers to be unfair labor practices. Those concerns won't go away.
Those issues demand leadership. President Bush found some when he tapped former industry insider Andrew Card as White House chief of staff. Perhaps the president should look again in industry executive suites for more second-term leaders.