The official tasked with overseeing train safety for millions of Americans resigned after he was caught taking in secret payments while on the government payroll, in violation of federal ethics guidelines.
Heath Hall, former acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration
Federal Railroad Administration
The official handpicked by Trump to oversee the safety of millions of railway passengers has been forced to resign in disgrace, highlighting once again the administration’s neglect of the federal government and its ongoing mismanagement of the public trust.
Heath Hall, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) resigned after reporters from Politico raised questions about him working as a public relations consultant while drawing a federal paycheck.
The Department of Transportation told the outlet that Hall’s resignation was “effective immediately.”
Hall is from Madison County, Mississippi, where he was working as a spokesman for a sheriff while also serving in his FRA role.
Hall — who owns a public relations and consulting firm in Madison County — pledged on a federal ethics form that the company would be “dormant” while he worked at the Department of Transportation. But as Politico noted, the firm took in payments from July to December of 2017.
The cavalier attitude towards ethics echoes Trump himself, who has refused to divest from his company’s holdings. This has turned his properties into a dumping ground for influence peddlers and big business hoping to get Trump to put his thumb on the scales on their behalf.
During Trump’s first year in office, the FRA has not had a permanent leader. Hall was picked to be the deputy administrator of the agency in June 2017. He had a background in public relations, marketing, and ran for a congressional seat as a Republican in 1998 but was not successful.
The debacle comes just after three people were killed and 100 others were injured in an Amtrak crash in Washington state.
In addition to not filling positions at the industry overseeing rail safety, Trump has been pushing to roll back or delay safety regulations.
Recently, the Transportation Department ruled that train cars transporting crude oil do not have to be outfitted with an electronic braking system. Regulations passed by the Obama administration had imposed the safety requirement. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) called the move “a senseless decision that endangers our communities by making oil by rail transportation less safe.”
Trump has installed corrupt officials to oversee agencies with vital safety responsibilities, while working to undo existing safety regulations. Alone, both approaches are dangerous. Together, millions of lives will be at stake.
Former research fellow at Media Matters for America who has been blogging about politics since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @owillis.