WASHINGTON — The nation’s transportation secretary usually holds one of the most public-facing roles in any presidential administration. A core aspect of the Cabinet job is to travel the country, doling out millions of public dollars and attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new bridges and overpasses and ports.
Even by those standards, Pete Buttigieg has spent an inordinate amount of time in the national spotlight delivering the largesse of the big infrastructure and domestic spending bills. But at the same time, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and onetime mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also has been the public face of a string of transportation-related crises, all amid steady speculation about his future political prospects.
During the 40-year-old Buttigieg’s tenure, there have been widespread global supply chain issues and logjams at major ports, multiple instances of mass flight cancellations by airlines and a narrowly avoided nationwide strike by railroad workers that was only averted by an eleventh-hour intervention from Congress.
The latest transportation mishap was the most high-profile yet.
On Wednesday morning, a malfunction in an obscure and apparently obsolete internal system called the Notice to Air Missions, or NOTAM, forced the temporary grounding of all air traffic in the United States. The move touched off a cascading snarl that resulted in the cancellation of more than 1,300 flights and the delay of 9,000 more. It was the biggest shutdown of U.S. aviation since the attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
Faced with a historic system failure, Buttigieg appeared to lean into his role as