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Transportation Secretary: Point Man on Diverse Issues With AM-100 Days-Drugs and Guns Bjt

April 27, 1989

Transportation Secretary: Point Man on Diverse Issues With AM-100 Days-Drugs and Guns Bjt. Also moved on general news wires.

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner is winning praise for his handling of tough issues for the Bush administration as head of a department touched by a wide range of crises.

The former federal prosecutor and Chicago mass transit administrator joined the new administration as a Washington outsider but is rapidly becoming one of the most visible members of President Bush’s Cabinet.

Skinner, who is in Europe this week on his second diplomatic mission concerning international air terrorism, has been Bush’s point man on several issues that might have been handled by officials in other departments.

Skinner said at his Senate confirmation hearing, ″I’m not going to take a back seat.″

He was referring to possible disagreements with the State Department over foreign air agreements, but he has climbed into the front seat on other issues as well, including air terrorism, drug interdiction, the Alaskan oil spill and the Eastern Airlines strike.

Skinner’s European trip followed a meeting he and British transport officials organized in Montreal to push for a coordinated defense against air terrorism.

He earlier traveled to the Caribbean to assess anti-drug activities of the Coast Guard.

When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil and creating an environmental disaster, Skinner flew to Alaska as the lead Cabinet officer dealing with the clean-up.

The Transportation Department has responsibility over all air, sea, and ground transportation, as well as pipelines and the Coast Guard.

″On balance, he’s addressed most issues professionally and frontally, with moxie and political skill,″ said aviation consultant Dean Sparkman. ″Both businesswise and socially, Sam’s a winner.″

Subordinates at Transportation describe Skinner as tough but personable. Reporters who suggest ulterior motives in any of his high-profile actions, get a curt, ″You don’t know me very well.″ But at the end of his first press briefing, he softened his tough image by pulling out a model airplane that played the tune ″Fly Me to the Moon.″

Relatives of some of the 270 people killed in the Dec. 21 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland say Skinner was the first administration official to show them compassion and listen to their complaints about government action or inaction in the case.

Skinner, who headed Bush’s presidential campaign in Illinois, has received praise for his administrative skill from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and from all sides in the transportation industry, although not all of his positions have been popular with both management and labor.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., called Skinner ″a breath of fresh air″ before unanimous confirmation by the Senate.

Skinner’s toughest critics have been in the Machinists’ union, which had tried to get the administration to step in and prevent the March 4 Eastern strike. Skinner recommended against it and then defended Bush’s inaction to the unions and Congress.

″We are extremely disappointed in his running of the Department of Transportation and hope in the future he will not automatically side with management,″ said Machinists’ spokesman Jim Conley.

The Airline Pilots Association, which joined the walkout, and members of the independent National Mediation Board also expressed dismay at the administration’s refusal to step in. Eastern, which since has shut down most of its operations and filed for reorganization under bankruptcy laws, opposed government action.

In some other matters, Skinner has defied corporate interests. He joined Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly in recommending tougher mileage standards for automobiles, and he is insisting that airlines pay for devices he has ordered installed in airports to scan luggage for plastic explosives.

But even officials who disagree with some of Skinner’s positions give him high marks as an administrator.

″He’s clearly emerging as a very good secretary of transportation,″ said Stephen Hayes, spokesman for the Air Transport Association which represents major airlines and believes the government should pay for security.

Robert J. Aaronson, ATA president, said Skinner inherited an inadequate system and faces insufficient airports, understaffed air traffic control operations, and tough security problems. The airlines want the Federal Aviation Administration split off as a separate agency.

Carroll Carter, executive director of the International Mass Transit Association and a former Transportation Department official, called Skinner ″a very practical person in political terms.″ His appeals to transit authorities to seek funding from sources other than the federal government are well received by transit officials because they believe he is sincere and understands the complexity of the industry, Carter said.

Carol Perkins, spokeswoman for the American Association of Railroads, said Skinner ″has been warmly received by the railroad industry.″

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