Outside of the 18th Congressional District of Illinois, not a lot is known about Ray LaHood, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be secretary of transportation.
The essential facts of LaHood's recent government experience are these: He is a seven-term Republican representative whose principal committee work has involved agriculture and appropriations. He chose not to run for re-election last year.
Some months ago in this space, before the election, we expressed the hope that the next president would put more into, and get more out of, the Department of Transportation.
We said at the time that congestion and inefficiency impose enormous costs on the national economy and that to get America moving again, we'll need "a powerful, visionary superstar" at the DOT.
This does not seem to be the Obama strategy.
Some pundits and bloggers have been quick to conclude from LaHood's selection that running the Transportation Department is not going to be a high-profile job in the new administration.
They note that the DOT job was one of the last Cabinet slots to be filled. What's more, the intended nominee is of the opposition party, has no national reputation to speak of and no significant experience in transportation.
That might be, but it is worth noting what Obama said about foreign policy when he made Hillary Clinton his choice for secretary of state: "I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me."
If, in a few years, we find that highway and airline congestion has worsened, that our transit systems continue to deteriorate, that upgrades to our air traffic control system are mired in political bickering, that our passenger trains lag even further behind the best that Europe and Asia have to offer, then we will know whom to blame.
And it won't be Ray LaHood.
Computers have gotten pretty good at managing airline reservations, but not good enough.
We refer to our recent article about an agent who booked a U.S.-Africa trip on an Ethiopian Airlines promotional fare, relying on United for connecting service to and from Ethiopian's Washington gateway.
Amadeus plated the ticket on United, the first carrier on the itinerary, despite requirements in Ethiopian's tariff that the ticket be validated on Ethiopian.
When the agent realized the error and attempted to reissue the ticket, United refused. Instead, a United computer repriced the ticket and billed the agent for more than $5,700, an amount exceeding its share of the revenue.
These are not simple transactions, but mature computer systems ought to recognize errors as they happen.
On a simple level, many e-commerce websites make it impossible to incorrectly enter a ZIP code. The programming costs for this enhancement have probably been recouped many times over by reducing the number of transactions requiring manual intervention.
Similarly, it should not be possible for a res system to incorrectly validate a ticket, or for an airline to bill an agent for more than it is owed.
Isn't that why we have computers in the first place?