President-elect Barack Obama is expected to announce Illinois Republican Rep. Ray LaHood as his choice to become the next secretary of transportation, ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent George Stephanopoulos reports.
If confirmed by the Senate, the Illinois lawmaker will replace Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters in overseeing the Department of Transportation and its key agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
LaHood is the first registered Republican who would be joining the Obama administration, and just the second non-Democrat. Obama has tapped current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a registered Independent who considers himself a Republican, to stay on in his current position.
On Wednesday, Republicans were already reacting to the choice.
"Ray LaHood is a good friend, a solid member of our congressional delegation, and would make a fine addition to any administration," said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna in a statement.
The new transportation secretary will play a critical role in getting a stimulus package up and running. Creating jobs and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure is just one of the challenges the incoming secretary faces, and there are a number of nasty labor issues that have been stewing beneath the surface that will need to be addressed.
In early December, Obama vowed that his administration would invest in transportation.
"We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investments in our national infrastructure," Obama said.
On Wednesday, a long-time Democrat and a former transportation official in the Clinton administration told ABC News that many Democrats are "greatly disappointed" by the pick.
"LaHood is a decent guy, but Democrats were anxiously looking for a Democrat to be in this position because it is a choke point for much of the economic stimulus package," he said.
On the other side, another Democrat and former DOT official said, "LaHood is a huge consensus builder and has a great reputation on the Hill. He is very popular with staff and with members. People see him as a smart guy and someone who understands the needs of both rural and urban America."
Obama has not yet decided who will replace acting administrator Robert Sturgell at the high-profile Federal Aviation Administration.
Until the new administration takes office, Peters has vowed to make the transition a smooth ride.
"My goal is clear," Peters said in a statement shortly after the election. "On Jan. 20, give the next Administration a transportation system that is safe, that is innovative and that is helping move our American economy. I am counting on all of our employees to help in that effort, as well as the transition process."
Upon taking the helm at DOT, LaHood would immediately confront several critical issues. The DOT inspector general's office issued its yearly report on Nov. 17, in which it stressed top challenges for the year ahead. Issues of runway safety, airline inspections, air traffic controller training and bridge and tunnel safety all made that list.