Department of Transportation

Fact Box

United States Department of Transportation

Formed on April 1, 1967
Headquarters- 1200 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, D.C.
Secretary of Transportation- Ray LaHood
Employees- 58,622
Annual budget (2014) $76.2 billion

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is a cabinet-level agency of the federal government responsible for helping maintain and develop the nation’s transportation systems and infrastructure. From roads to airlines to railways, DOT carries out planning that supports the movement of Americans by cars, truck, trains, ships and planes. When it comes to ground transportation, state and local governments are largely the key government players in building new roads or running public transit systems. But DOT plays a key role by providing funding to lower levels of government to improve the means of transport that Americans use. With air travel, the Transportation Department has a more hands-on role, as it regulates commercial airlines and airports in a dual effort to both promote the industry and ensure the safety of passengers. Of all its agencies, DOT has taken the most flack for its running of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—an operation that continues to be the subject of criticism for not staying on top of potential problems.

It was Najeeb Halaby, administrator of the independent Federal Aviation Agency, who proposed the idea of a cabinet-level Department of Transportation to President Lyndon Johnson’s aides in 1965. Frustrated by the Defense Department’s infringement upon certain transportation issues, such as supersonic transport, Halaby wanted to elevate transportation policy to a higher level. Halaby argued that the new department should assume the functions then under the authority of the under secretary of commerce for transportation. Moreover, he recommended that the Federal Aviation Agency become part of that department.
Halaby got help from Charles Schultze, director of the Bureau of the Budget, and Joseph A. Califano, Jr., special assistant to the president, who together pushed for the new department. They urged the under secretary of commerce for transportation to explore the prospects of having a transportation department initiative prepared as part of Johnson’s 1966 legislative program. This launched the Boyd Task Force, which recommended the creation of a Department of Transportation that would include the Federal Aviation Agency, the Bureau of Public Roads, the Coast Guard, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, the Great Lakes Pilotage Association, the Car Service Division of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the subsidy function of the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the Panama Canal.
President Johnson agreed to the plan and sent it to Congress on March 6, 1966. It took considerable negotiation with lawmakers to get them to agree to approve the legislation, but finally, on October 15, 1966, the President was given the authority to create the Department of Transportation (DOT). The addition of DOT represented the most sweeping reorganization of the federal government since the National Security Act of 1947. Almost overnight DOT became the fourth largest cabinet-level department, bringing together more than thirty transportation agencies and functions scattered throughout the government and about 95,000 employees, most of whom had been with the Federal Aviation Agency, the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Public Roads.
Not long after DOT was born, the White House drafted a plan to transfer urban mass transit functions to the department from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Responsibility for these programs resided in the newly established Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration).
During his first administration, President Richard Nixon presided over several significant transportation-related matters, including the bailout of the Penn Central Railroad, the launching of Amtrak, airline hijackings, the sick-out of the fledgling Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, the decision to end federal support for production of the supersonic transport and to handle applications for Concorde landing slots, and the Coast Guard’s handling of defector Simas Kudirka, a Lithuanian seaman.
In 1970, the Highway Safety Act authorized the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Although the law added somewhat to the department’s safety mission, the Federal Highway Administration originally had handled most of the functions that the new agency assumed. Besides establishing another operating administration and adding to the secretary’s span of control and coordination workload, the Highway Safety Act separated highway administration into two parts: design, construction, and maintenance on the one hand; and highway and automobile safety on the other.
In April 1975, Congress approved legislation that moved the National Transportation Safety Board out of DOT and made it an independent federal agency. Another important change came two years later when President Jimmy Carter’s transportation secretary, Brock Adams, established the Research and Special Programs Directorate (which subsequently became the Research and Special Programs Administration [RSPA]). When Adams created RSPA, he combined the Transportation Systems Center, the hazardous materials transportation and pipeline safety programs, and diverse program activities from the Office of the Secretary that did not readily fit into any of the existing operating administrations. The establishment of the RSPA set a precedent in that it was a creation of the Secretary, not Congress.
During Adams’s administration, the Inspectors General Act of 1978 established for the department, and other executive agencies as well, an inspector general, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The mission of the inspector general was to help the secretary cope with waste, fraud and abuse. Before leaving office, Adams recommended that the Federal Highway Administration and the Urban Mass Transportation Administration be reorganized into a Surface Transportation Administration, an idea that latter transportation secretaries (James Burnley and Federico Peña) toyed with as well.
During the late 1970s, several transportation deregulation plans were approved: the Railroad Regulatory Act (better known as the Staggers Rail Act), the Truck Regulatory Reform Act, the International Airlines Reform Act, and the Household Goods Regulatory Reform Act (which affected interstate trucking). Also during this time, DOT leadership established the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization in the Office of the Secretary. It was responsible for carrying out policies and procedures consistent with federal statutes to provide policy guidance for minority, women-owned, and disadvantaged businesses taking part in the department's procurement and federal financial assistance activities.
President Ronald Reagan’s first secretary of transportation, Andrew Lewis, oversaw the transfer of the Maritime Administration from the Commerce Department to DOT in order to formulate a national transportation policy. Also, the department assumed greater visibility during the air traffic controllers’ strike in August 1981, during which Lewis spoke for the administration. After personally negotiating with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in the days leading up to the strike, Lewis forcefully explained the government’s response to the strike-firings and no amnesty for strikers. Lewis was also responsible for the enactment of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, which sought to improve transportation safety among commercial vehicle operators.
Lewis’s successor, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, brought to her new position experience in consumer and trade matters. At DOT, she focused on many safety-related issues, including drunk driving and the so-called “Dole brake light,” which led to the addition of a third brake light on automobiles. Responding to a Supreme Court ruling, Dole authorized deadlines for the installation of air bags and other passive restraints in motor vehicles, which resulted in major increases in seat belt usage by the public, and incentives to manufacturers to equip new cars with air bags. Dole also moved to end Federal Railroad Administration ownership of Conrail in 1987 and encouraged the establishment of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, transferring administration of Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport from the Federal Aviation Administration to that authority.
Under President George H. W. Bush’s DOT secretary, Samuel Skinner, the department placed greater emphasis on crafting a National Transportation Policy. Skinner also dealt with numerous high-profile disasters that affected transportation, earning him the moniker “the Master of Disaster.” Crises Skinner had to manage included the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988, the machinists’ strike at Eastern Airlines in March 1989 and the company’s subsequent bankruptcy, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (also March 1989), the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California (October 1989), and Hurricane Hugo (September 1990).
On December 18, 1991, President Bush signed into law the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which provided a six-year reauthorization to restructure DOT’s highway, highway safety and transit programs. One effect of this legislation was that the Urban Mass Transportation Administration became the Federal Transit Administration. The ISTEA legislation also required the department to establish two new organizational entities: the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which was to provide timely transportation-related information through the compilation, analysis, and publishing of comprehensive transportation statistics, and the Office of Intermodalism in the Office of the Assistant Deputy Secretary, which was charged with coordinating and initiating federal policy on intermodal transportation.
As part of President Bill Clinton’s National Performance Review, the Transportation Department under the leadership of Federico Peña set out to restructure DOT. While some changes were implemented, those requiring Congressional approval, such as folding the department’s 10 administrations into three, never materialized.
Following his reelection in 1996, Clinton selected Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater to succeed Peña at DOT. Slater was instrumental in getting ISTEA reauthorized, with the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, the largest public works legislation in history. During his first year and a half at DOT, airline and railroad mergers again became fashionable. Department negotiators helped to avert a strike against Amtrak, while Congress mandated an overhaul for the railroad. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued regulations allowing consumers to turn off their airbag switches where necessary; and the United States finalized a long-sought, liberalized aviation agreement with Japan.
In the wake of the contentious Presidential election of 2000, George W. Bush reached out to the Democratic Party for his nominee to head DOT, selecting former Congressman Norman Mineta (D-CA), a Japanese-American who became the first Asian-Pacific American to serve as Secretary of Transportation and the first DOT secretary to have served in a previous cabinet position (Secretary of Commerce under Clinton). Mineta led the department during the post-9/11 period, when lawmakers heavily criticized the poor security that allowed hijackers to board commercial airliners. On November 19, 2001, President Bush signed into law the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which, among other things, called for the establishment of a completely new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) within DOT to increase security at airports and other transportation venues.
TSA, which became operational on February 16, 2002, didn’t stay long in the Transportation Department. As part of the President’s broad-based reorganization of the federal government, TSA was moved in 2003 into the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, along with the Coast Guard.

What it Does
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is the federal government’s lead agency for planning and support of the nation’s land, air and sea-based travel systems. DOT develops, implements and enforces federal regulations governing use of America’s roads and highways, airports and air corridors, railways and seaports. The department also makes available billions of dollars in federal grants each year to state and local authorities to help improve transportation programs throughout the country.
Major DOT offices and programs:

Roads and Motor Vehicles

Federal Highway Administration: FHWA helps maintain the nation’s system of interstate highways. Responsibility for building and maintaining highways is the charge of state and local governments, but the FHWA provides enormous support in the form of funding. Using monies collected from fuel and motor vehicle excise taxes, FHWA disperses federal highway funds to cities, counties, state agencies and tribal governments through two programs: Federal-aid Highway Program (to state and local governments); and Federal Lands Highways Program (for roads in national parks, national forests, Indian lands and other land under federal stewardship). The agency also establishes rules for building safe roads, overpasses and bridges that governments and contractors must follow.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: NHTSA is the federal agency charged with regulating safety standards in the auto industry and transportation. To achieve its stated mission of reducing fatalities, injuries and costs associated with auto accidents, the NHTSA acts through research, public education and consumer protection initiatives; investigates defects and enforces manufacturer compliance with safety standards; and helps regulate other standards such as fuel economy. It deals with topics from safety defects, crash testing and accident statistics—to child seats, teen driving and pedestrians. The agency was founded as the result of intense public-interest advocacy, with the explicit purpose of protecting consumers through regulation of the auto industry and federal safety standards. However, over the years—and as a result of devolution, budget-slashing and a progressive copping to industry interests—it is now run to help the industries it was intended to regulate.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: FMCSAis charged with creating regulations and safety initiatives to improve the safety of commercial vehicles. In creating the FMCSA, transportation officials hoped to reduce the number and severity of accidents involving large trucks, such as 18-wheelers. Programs run by the agency include the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety and Security program and the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 Initiative.
Air Traffic

Federal Aviation Administration: FAA oversees the US commercial aviation industry for the Department of Transportation. As the primary oversight agency for airlines, FAA maintains voluminous records of regulations and standards that companies like United Airlines, Delta, Southwest and others must follow in order to transport passengers. FAA also sets rules for airport operations and pilots. The nations’ air traffic control system, which directs commercial, private and military aircraft all across the US, is also the responsibility of the FAA, which employs all traffic controllers. Since its beginning, FAA has had two main duties: promote the airline industry and ensure the safety of American passengers. The FAA has had mixed success carrying out its safety mission, including recent accounts of allowing one airline to fly planes not fully inspected by federal officials. Its tarnished reputation only got worst following the September 11, 2001, hijackings of four commercial airliners.

Federal Railroad Administration: FRA is responsible for developing and enforcing railroad safety regulations. FRA also administers railroad assistance programs, conducts research and development to support improved railroad safety and helps rehabilitate the Northeast Corridor rail passenger service.
Surface Transportation Board: STB is responsible for regulating the railroad industry. The board develops and promotes rail line regulatory reforms; seeks ways to increase fiscal responsibility in the railroad industry; resolves railroad rate and service disputes; enforces compliance of rail operation laws; enforces compliance with environmental-related laws; approves or rejects proposed railroad mergers; determines if a company can enter or leave the railroad business; approves or rejects abandonment of a rail line; and oversees rail transportation emergencies, whether caused by damaged rail tracks, congestion, or the inability of a carrier to meet its transportation obligations.
Water Transportation

Maritime Administration: MARAD is responsible for all waterborne transportation in the United States. MARAD’s programs include facilitating use of waterborne transportation and overseeing its integration with other segments of the transportation industry. The agency is responsible for the US merchant marine and works to make sure American ships, ports, environment, safety and national security are protected. The Maritime Administration maintains a fleet of cargo ships to provide surge sealift during war and national emergencies (the National Defense Reserve Fleet), and it helps to dispose of non-combatant government ship as they become obsolete.
Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation: SLSDC works to keep the St. Lawrence Seaway System operating as an efficient, environmentally responsible, reliable, safe, technologically advanced marine transportation system, while moving cargo such as coal, grain, iron, ore, and steel between North America and international markets. The seaway system encompasses the St. Lawrence River and the five Great Lakes, extending around 2,300 miles from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence at the Atlantic Ocean to the western end of Lake Superior at the twin ports of Duluth, MN, and Superior, WI. SLSDC works in conjunction with its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Company, which together set and enforce regulations related to navigation and traffic control in the seaway system. In addition, both entities perform inspections, for safety and environmental protection issues, of all ocean vessels heading into the seaway.

Federal Transit Administration: FTA funds mass transit systems across the country by distributing billions of dollars in grants to local and state governments and other organizations. FTA’s goal is see new transit systems come online or to improve existing mass transit operations. The agency is also responsible for ensuring that recipients of grants follow federal mandates along with statutory and administrative requirements. Due to the sheer cost of building new public transportation systems, FTA funding is critical to any project hoping to get off the ground. In one instance, the agency flip-flopped over supporting a longtime subway project affecting Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia, which angered both proponents and critics of the project.
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration: PHMSA is responsible for keeping the public safe and the environment protected when hazardous materials are moved throughout the country by land, sea or air. This includes almost one million daily shipments of hazardous materials, including 64% of the nation’s petroleum products. Among its many duties, PHMSA develops and enforces regulations for the 2.3 million-mile pipelines transportation system; sponsors research projects to stay on top of the latest advances in technology that may be potentially applicable to safety procedure upgrades; awards grants to provide financial and technical assistance for states, tribes and local communities to receive preparation on how to handle hazmat emergencies; and distributes special permits. .
Office of the Inspector General: OIG for the Department of Transportation is responsible for ensuring DOT programs and operations comply with the law and carry out their functions efficiently. The OIG performs dozens of audits and investigations each year that review financial records as well as other documentation to determine if any criminal or unethical behavior or poorly managed operations need to be addressed. In cases where DOT employees are suspected of breaking the law, the OIG refers the matter to the US Attorney General for prosecution.

Research and Innovative Technology Administration:

RITA manages the Department of Transportation’s research and development programs, with the ultimate goal of creating technologies that can be used to improve the country’s transportation networks. The agency also compiles statistics, publishes reports and provides education in transportation-related fields. All told, the agency helps coordinates research efforts worth approximately $1 billion annually.

Where Does the Money Go?

The Department of Transportation spent $17.4 billion this decade on private contractors, according to A total of 16,503 companies and other organizations were paid for, among other things, operating government-owned facilities ($2.5 billion), constructing highways, roads, bridges and railways ($2.5 billion), and providing engineering and technical services ($1.2 billion).
The biggest spenders within DOT are the Federal Highway Administration ($4.2 billion), Maritime Administration ($3.06 billion) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ($2.9 billion).
The top 10 contractors are:
Crowley Maritime Corporation
The Boeing Company
Lockheed Martin
Veritas Capital Fund II, LP
Saltchuk Resources, Inc.
Computer Sciences Corporation
General Dynamics Corporation
Phoenix Marine Co. Inc.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
Chas Kurz & Co Inc.
Examples of FAA contracts included ASRC Management Services which was given a $215 million contract to work on the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, OK for up to five years. The company will provide engineering support services to the FAA.
Computer Sciences Corporation, which has spent almost three decades working for FAA, was awarded a $68 million contract to design, develop and test components of the FAA’s future Controller Pilot Data Communications Link system.
Another longtime contractor, BAE Systems, was given two contracts totaling $107 million by the FAA. BAE Systems, which has done work for the agency for 10 years, received a $67 million contract to provide systems engineering and support services and a $40 million contract to provide management and financial support services.
Tetra Tech Inc. received its largest FAA contract to date when it was awarded a $60 million deal to support FAA’s Global Positioning System. Tetra Tech will provide technical engineering and business support services to help manage the agency’s satellite navigation system. The deal was followed by another FAA contract worth $52 million to provide IT support to the Office of Security and Hazardous Materials.
Harris Corporation received a $5.7 million contract extension to the Weather and Radar Processor program, bringing the company’s total to $131 million it has received from the FAA since 1996. WARP is a next-generation weather and radar system that allows FAA officials to consolidate weather data from several sources into a single, integrated display to support air traffic operations nationwide.
Computer manufacturer Lexmark sold the FAA $60 million in laser printers and other computer equipment for the agency’s 800 offices.
For FY 2007, the Federal Highway Administration gave out funding for innovative bridge research and deployment and interstate maintenance ($92 million), the Public Lands Highways Program ($84.3 million), the Transportation Community and System Preservation Program ($55 million), programs involving ferry boats ($40.2 million), Highways for LIFE Pilot Program ($14.6 million), and the Delta Region Transportation Development Program ($9.2 million).
One of the largest outlays of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants went to support rebuilding efforts at the World Trade Center complex. In 2005, FTA announced it had awarded $699 million to the New York Port Authority to help with several projects, including a new $478 million World Trade Center Security Center.
Examples of 2008 projects that FTA has supported include:
Norfolk, VA’s The Tide light rail project received $128 million toward building 11 stations, three new park-and-ride structures and a maintenance facility and the purchasing of nine rail vehicles. The Tide, which will cost a total of $232 million to complete and is expected to begin service in 2010, will serve between 6,000 and 12,000 riders per day.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation/Bureau of Transit received a grant of $2.2 million to provide operating and planning assistance to areas with a population below 50,000. The grant will be used to expand service in 11 rural areas and to study of the feasibility of bringing public transportation to four additional counties.

The Center for Transportation and the Environment was awarded a $1.2 million grant for the continued development and demonstration of an improved hybrid fuel cell bus.

Data for Department of Transportation