Although Mendez, 55, is a relative newcomer to Washington, he came well prepared for his job as administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. After graduating in 1980 from the University of Texas, in his hometown of El Paso, he began his career as a civil engineer and almost immediately became interested in transportation—one of the only arenas, Mendez points out, where one can see and touch the fruits of one's labor. He moved to Arizona, getting his master's degree in business administration at Arizona State, and began working for the state Transportation Department in 1985. Mendez stayed at the agency for more than two decades, taking its helm from 2001 to 2009. He came to the nation's capital to serve on the Obama-Biden transition team and took on his current post shortly thereafter, charged with deploying initiatives affecting the nation's main thoroughfares and with managing 2,900 employees. At a time when there's little loose change to spend on transportation projects, Mendez's most ambitious goal is to harness innovation to reduce project delivery times by 50 percent. He says he's enjoyed his sojourn in Washington, despite the occasional hazards. "I find it very awe-inspiring to run on the National Mall," Mendez says. "Being an avid Dallas Cowboys fan, it's also quite difficult to run on the Mall because it's Redskins territory—and it's even more difficult to run on the Mall wearing Cowboys gear."