The Texas Department of Transportation is a high-profile agency that has seemed intent on making a series of high-profile plunders in recent years. No one has much good to say for an agency that so often seems to spend frivolously while claiming poverty. To say TxDOT is in need of reform is a mild understatement. But Texas needs a well-run, properly functioning transportation agency. And the Houston Chronicle‘s profile of the new TxDOT chair, Deirdre Delisi, gives reason for hope that the agency may yet live up to the taxpayers’ expectations and our economy’s needs.
I’ve gotten to know Ms. Delisi over the last few years, and am confident that if anyone can bring about the needed, substantive reforms from the inside, it’s her. She’s smart and well-read, an unabashed conservative, and a devotee of free-market thinking. My personal experience has been that she begins policy discussions with the premise tax dollars are wasted by government, and that greater efficiencies can always be found. Taxpayer protection is a guiding principle, not a slogan.
She’s not a pie-in-the-sky ideologue, but she won’t ever be caught defending the status quo.
One critique leveled by TxDOT critics at Delisi’s appointment is that she has "zero" experience at TxDOT or working specifically in transportation. (She did serve as chief of staff to the governor, and therefore oversaw all policy operations.) TxDOT critics cannot have it both ways: they cannot at the same time decry the agency waste and yet also fight as the leader someone from the outside!
For my money, one of Delisi’s greatest strengths is that she didn’t rise out of the agency bureaucracy. She approaches public policy generally with the right mindset, and is untainted by "this is how we’ve always done it." She understands the politics of the Legislature and the concerns of taxpayers. She’ll be able to ask questions, and demand results, that few from within the system ever could.
Delisi deserves a chance to put TxDOT right. At worst she’ll be able to make some improvement, and at best she’ll restore the public trust in the agency.