Transportation, Department of

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TRANSPORTATION, DEPARTMENT OF (DOT) was established by an act of Congress (P.L. 89-670) on 15 October 1966, and formally opened for business on 1 April 1967. It consists of the Office of the Secretary and fourteen Operating Administrations, each of which has statutory responsibility for the implementation of a wide range of regulations, both at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and at the appropriate regional offices.


The Department's mission is to develop and coordinate policies that provide an efficient and economical national transportation system, with due regard for its impact on safety, the environment, and national defense. For example, DOT regulates safety in the skies, on the seas, and on the roads and rails. The department regulates consumer and economic issues regarding aviation and provides financial assistance for programs involving highways, airports, mass transit, the maritime industry, railroads, and motor vehicle safety. It writes regulations carrying out such disparate statutes as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Uniform Time Act. It promotes intermodal transportation (utilizing different modes of transportation for one trip) and implements international trade and transportation agreements.

The Structure

The Office of the Secretary (OST) oversees the formulation of America's national transportation policy, including the promotion of intermodalism and safety. The office includes the secretary, the deputy secretary, one under secretary, five assistant secretaries, and the office of the general counsel. Four of the assistant secretaries are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The fifth, the assistant secretary for administration, has a career civil service appointee at its helm. In addition to the general counsel, these four offices include Aviation and International Affairs, Budget and Financial Management, Governmental Affairs, and Transportation Policy.

The Operating Administrations, which are responsible for implementing the department's mission, include: (1) the United States Coast Guard (USCG); (2) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); (3) the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); (4) the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA); (5) the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA); (6) the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); (7) the Federal Transit Administration (FTA); (8) the Maritime Administration (MARAD); (9) the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (SLSDC); (10) the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA); and (11) the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Each is headed by a presidential appointee who is subject to Senate confirmation. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the Transportation Administrative Service Center (TASC), and the Surface Transportation Board (STB) provide specialized functions.

DOT's Immediate Pre-History

From the outset, the drive behind the establishment of a Department of Transportation was to develop a viable national transportation policy. When DOT was formed, the federal government had no less than thirty-four agencies and functions to handle the nation's transportation programs. The need to nationalize these programs under a single roof gained steady adherence in the years following the Civil War; and since that time, members of Congress attempted to pass legislation resolving this issue on ninety-two occasions. The first Hoover Commission (1947–1949), as part of its mandate to reorganize the executive branch, proposed to put all the transportation functions under the Department of Commerce, which President Harry S. Truman did—to almost no one's satisfaction. President Dwight Eisenhower's Advisory Committee on Governmental Organization proposed a cabinet-level Department of Transportation and Communications; however, this proposal faced several political obstacles. Consequently, when the retiring administrator of the still-independent Federal Aviation Agency proposed to President Lyndon Baines Johnson the establishment of a Department of Transportation, the staff of the Bureau of the Budget, who had been working on proposals to reorganize the executive branch, seized upon his proposal. Noting that "America today lacks a coordinated [intermodal] transportation system," Johnson agreed, and within two years, in October 1966, the Department of Transportation became a reality.

From Many to One

As such, DOT proved valuable in the development of a national transportation policy, particularly during the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. During President Ronald Reagan's administration, not only had the maritime administration successfully been brought into the Department, but DOT had managed to withstand serious efforts to pry away the Coast Guard and the FAA as well. It even saw commercial space transportation and residual functions of the Civilian Aeronautics Board (CAB) and the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) become significant parts of the mix.

Guided by President William Clinton's National Performance Review (the Reinventing Government Initiative) and Congress's passage of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 and the Government and Performance Results Act of 1993, the Department pursued a "One DOT" management strategy, replete with customer service proposals, strategic planning, and performance appraisals. As an example, NHTSA adopted as its slogan, "People Saving People."

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, on 19 November 2001, Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which established the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), responsible for securing all modes of transportation in the United States.


Burby, John F. The Great American Motion Sickness; or, Why You Can't Get From There to Here. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.

Davis, Grant Miller. The Department of Transportation. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath Lexington, 1970.

Hazard, John L. Managing National Transportation Policy. Westport, Conn.: Eno Foundation for Transportation Policy, 1988.

Whitnah, Donald Robert. U.S. Department of Transportation: A Reference History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.

R. DaleGrinder

See alsoTransportation and Travel .

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