Transportation is one of the greatest enablers of a nation's economic growth. The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is a Cabinet-level agency that oversees U.S. transportation systems under the leadership of the secretary of transportation. The DOT establishes public policy and regulations that pertain to both interstate and intrastate commerce. Historically, regulation of transportation was handled at the state level. In the 19th century, the growing need for interstate roads and a nationwide railway system led to the initiation of federal transportation projects and regulations. The Cumberland Road was the first major U.S. highway to be built by the federal government.
The project was authorized by President Thomas Jefferson in 1806, with construction commencing in 1811 and completed in 1817. Spanning 620 miles between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, the Cumberland Road was traveled by thousands of settlers heading west. Between 1862 and 1866, a series of congressional acts known as the Pacific Railroad Acts promoted construction of the U.S. transcontinental railroad. In addition to issuing government bonds to finance the railroad and authorizing railroad land grants, the acts put regulations related to track gauge into place to facilitate interstate movement of trains owned by different railroad companies. Established by Congress on October 15, 1966, the DOT began operation on April 1, 1967. The agency was formed to consolidate and coordinate the federal government's transportation programs and to establish policies that enable safe and efficient transportation to be delivered at the lowest possible cost. The agency is responsible for the implementation and administration of highways, roads, railroads, airports and ports in addition to the administration of trucking, aviation and maritime commerce. Information about specific DOT regulations is available on the DOT Regulatory Information website.
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The DOT also supports a proactive Energy Conservation Program that promotes the use of alternative energy generation for transportation. The DOT works with state agencies to set priorities for state-administered transportation programs. The agency also plays a leadership role in determining the federal government's stand on major issues that affect nationwide transportation. Recent decades have seen deregulation in many of the areas that were previously covered by DOT transportation policy. In the air carrier industry, passenger and cargo rates are no longer under DOT control. Domestic air carriers have also been deregulated and can service any geographical area as long as safety regulations are observed. The majority of water transportation operations are also exempt from DOT rate regulation. Rail and motor regulation remain under the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board (STB), a three-person board within the DOT. Members of the STB are appointed by the president and approved by Congress.
The STB regulates rates, rules, routes, facilities and acquisitions related to roads, highways and railroads. In February of 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. The legislation includes provisions for modernizing the nation's transportation infrastructure and expanding transit capacity. The DOT has committed to upgrading tracks, cars and engines in the Amtrak system; expanding airports and making them safer; and building and rehabilitating roads, highways, ports and bridges. The launch of high-speed rail systems is also planned by the DOT. With funding of $35 billion since 2009, Recovery Act projects are contributing to increased economic activity in communities across the nation. In addition to funding from the Recovery Act, the DOT has requested funding for a 2013 annual budget of $74 billion.
Transportation and Government Careers
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees road, air, rail and maritime transportation and trade and ensures that the nation's current and future transportation needs are met. The DOT offers challenging MPA careers related to the development, regulation and maintenance of national transportation systems as well as support for international transportation and trade.
The associate administrator for vehicle safety research oversees research for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This research is used to support programs and initiatives that reduce injuries, deaths and property damage from vehicle crashes. The research also supports formulation of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The associate administrator is expected to advance the state of knowledge on highway and motor vehicle safety, provide policy guidance to the Office of Vehicle Safety Research and represent the NHTSA and DOT as an authority on vehicle safety research. The position also involves management of a staff of technical and support personnel and regular evaluation of staff performance.
The director of the Office of International Transportation and Trade serves an advisor to the assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs. The position involves program management and policy recommendations related to international transportation system efficiency, safety and sustainability. The director promotes innovation that support U.S. foreign policy initiatives and represents the assistant secretary at international government conferences and high-level industry meetings. The director is additionally responsible for directing international diplomatic and protocol activities for the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. Management of a group of international transportation experts is another responsibility of this position.
The associate administrator for environment and compliance assists the maritime administrator with activities related to environmental challenges in the maritime industry. Responsibilities include making recommendations related to environmental safety, regulations and standards. The position also involves compliance activities in support of maritime administration programs. The associate administrator manages and coordinates activities of the Office of Safety, the Office of Environment and the Office of Security as well as oversees research and development plans for these offices. The associate administrator also ensures effective communication with industry and builds support for the Maritime Administration's objectives and goals.