Robert S. Rivkin

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Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of Delta Air Lines for Regulatory and International Affairs

Robert S. Rivkin is the Senior Vice President for Regulatory and International Affairs and Deputy General Counsel of Delta Air Lines. Prior to joining Delta in April 2013, he was the 21st General Counsel of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). Appointed by President Barack Obama, Rivkin was sworn in on May 18, 2009, following unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate.[1] While serving as DOT’s chief legal officer, Rivkin played a key role in a number of programs and initiatives including the Cash for Clunkers program and the Toyota vehicle recalls.[1]


Early work[edit]

Rivkin, a lawyer, has worked in private practice and public service. He has served as a director of the Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council and of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. He was also an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Director of Programs and Policies for the City of Chicago Law Department, and a partner at a Chicago-based law firm.[1]

In 2001, Rivkin joined the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) as General Counsel, overseeing the legal operations of the second largest mass transit system in the country. Rivkin was “instrumental” in acquiring $530 million to expand the CTA Brown Line, which was facing a 10% increase in ridership. The project was the costliest CTA expansion ever at the time.[2]

In 2004, Rivkin left the CTA to join then-Chicago-based Aon Corporation as Vice President and Deputy General Counsel. He stayed in that position until 2009.[1][2]

Department of Transportation[edit]

Appointed by President Barack Obama, Rivkin was sworn in as the 21st General Counsel of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) on May 18, 2009, following unanimous confirmation by the United States Senate.[1] A longtime Obama supporter and contributor, Rivkin first met Obama in 1991.[3] While with DOT, Rivkin was counsel to Secretary Ray LaHood and served as DOT’s Chief Legal Officer, with authority to resolve all legal questions concerning the Department’s policies and programs and its over 55,000 employees and $78 billion budget.

In 2009, Rivkin was put in charge of the "Cash for Clunkers" automotive rebate program, a $3 billion U.S. federal scrappage program intended to provide economic incentives to U.S. residents to purchase a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle when trading in a less fuel-efficient vehicle. The program was promoted as providing economic stimulus by boosting car sales, while putting safer, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. The department was given an unusually short period of time to plan and develop the program.[4]

Under Rivkin’s leadership, DOT issued new traveler protection rules requiring airlines to let customers off planes stuck on the tarmac for three hours. Critics of the rule have argued that it has resulted in "more delays and more flight cancellations".[5]

The rules also increased compensation for involuntarily delayed (or "bumped") passengers, required airlines to advertise their full fares, including any mandatory taxes, fees, or airline charges, and expanded the new tarmac regulations to cover international flights.[6] Rivkin noted that “[hidden fees] serve only to confuse or deceive consumers regarding the true full price of the ticket and to make price comparisons difficult.”[7] Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, and Southwest Airlines filed a lawsuit against the rule in November 2011, arguing that it violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and that the overtaxing of the airline industry is to blame for rising airline costs.[8] Rivkin responded that “deceptive presentations that highlight a low 'base fare' (such as the $9 fares advertised by Spirit that include neither government taxes nor Spirit’s own non-optional fees) mislead and confuse consumers, Spirit would be free to add the statement ‘fares include $XX.XX in taxes and government fees’ in all its fare advertising, provided it did so in a nondeceptive manner.”[8] The District of Columbia Court of Appeals rejected Spirit's challenge.[9]

Rivkin also led the department’s legal team negotiating a record fine for the violations that led to Toyota's recall of approximately 9 million vehicles because of unintended acceleration.

Rivkin received the Secretary’s Gold Medal Award for Outstanding Achievement in both 2010 and 2011.[10]

Delta Air Lines[edit]

On April 9, 2013, it was announced that Rivkin would leave the Department of Transportation to become the Senior Vice President for Regulatory and International Affairs and Deputy General Counsel for Delta Airlines, a position he still currently holds. Rivkin is responsible for addressing governmental regulation and oversight in the U.S. and abroad, as well as international, litigation, antitrust, employment and real estate legal issues. He also works with Delta colleagues and industry associations Airlines for America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to advocate Delta’s interests across a range of domestic and international areas including bilateral aviation agreements, energy, emissions, competition and consumer rights.[11]

Education, family and personal life[edit]

Robert Samuel Rivkin was born on December 6, 1960 to parents Enid Hammerman and William R. Rivkin, the 3rd of 4 children.

Rivkin attended Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude. He graduated with his J.D. from Stanford Law School, where he was an associate editor of the Stanford Law Review.

Rivkin's father, William R. Rivkin, was United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under President John F. Kennedy and United States Ambassador to Senegal and the Gambia under President Lyndon B. Johnson. His younger brother, Charles, is the current United States Ambassador to France and Monaco.[1] His aunt, Joanne H. Alter was an American activist, politician, and the first woman to break the gender barrier in Chicago area politics.[12] Former Newsweek and current Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter is a cousin of Rivkin. Rivkin is the godson of former Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey.[3]

In 1988, he Rivkin married Cindy S. Moelis in a Jewish ceremony at the East River Yacht Club in Long Island City, Queens;[13] they have two daughters, Stephanie and Claire, and a son, Alexander. His wife is the current director of the White House Fellows Program.[3]