Deborah Hersman, the National Transportation Safety Board chairman dubbed by some insiders as the "crash babe" for her stylish appearance at crash investigation press conferences, is on the list of those President Obama is considering as his next Transportation secretary, according to sources.
With a savvy eye for communications and investigations, Hersman has pushed herself onto a list that was led by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa until he recently withdrew his name.
Hersman, who would help the president fight charges his Cabinet is too white and male, has the support of West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that will confirm the replacement for outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Administration officials said that Hersman is actively seeking the position, irking some inside the White House. "That might backfire," said one insider.
Hersman's spokesperson, Kelly Nantell, however, said "Chairman Hersman's full attention is focused on the important work of running the NTSB."
She's an obvious choice for the post because many of her initiatives are shared by LaHood, such as her focus on distracted driving. She is currently leading the probe into battery fires on the new Boeing 787.
Hersman has made a name for herself and her agency at press conferences called to address major transportation disasters, such as plane crashes. Always fashionable, some in the administration and on Capitol Hill have dubbed her "crash babe." Some news outlets, like the Daily Beast, caller her "Aviation's Iron Lady."
Her official biography describes her as "one of the nation's most visionary and passionate safety leaders who advocates for safety across all modes of transportation."
Along the way she has upset some in the transportation industry and a few in the administration who believe she is too press-friendly. A supporter, however, said that elevating the profile of NTSB has helped the agency.
There have been 16 transportation secretaries, but only two have been women: Elizabeth Dole in the Reagan administration and Mary Peters in George W. Bush's administration. She was Bush's federal highway administrator before getting the cabinet post.