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Longest-serving USDOT deputy secretary passes away

News | November 14, 2023 | By:

Mortimer Downey, the longest serving deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), passed away from pulmonary fibrosis on November 2, 2023 at the age of 87.

Mortimer Downey. Photo courtesy of AASHTO.

Downey served as USDOT deputy secretary from 1993 to 2001. He was originally appointed to the position at the beginning of the Clinton administration, serving as acting USDOT secretary for the first four days of the Bush administration, from January 21, 2001, to January 24, 2001.

Born in Springfield, Mass., Downey was educated at the Phillips Academy, Yale University, and New York University. He also served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.

He was also known as “accidental transportation expert” after failing to receive any offers from the banking and financial institution recruiters he interviewed with as a student at Yale in the late 1950s. Instead, he enlisted as a management trainee with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – the initial step on his pathway to joining USDOT during the Clinton Administration; eventually – working under USDOT Secretaries Federico Peña and Rodney Slater.

During his tenure at USDOT, Downey played significant roles in reforming Amtrak funding and operations as well as in the creation of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, known by its acronym TEA-21, which authorized federal funding for surface transportation programs for highways, highway safety, and transit for a six-year period from 1998 to 2003.

Outside of his USDOT career, Downey served as executive director and chief financial officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City from 1986 to 1993 and as chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority from 2015 to 2016. He was also a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. Information courtesy of AASHTO.

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