DOT Establishes Multimodal Freight Office

The U.S. Department of Transportation this week announced the establishment of its new Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy to run the Freight Logistics Optimization Works (FLOW) program for supply chain efficiency and carry out other directives prescribed by law.

“Since President Biden took office we have focused on supply chain improvements, not just to recover from pandemic-driven disruptions but also to make lasting improvements for a stronger and more resilient future,” said  Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Our new Multimodal Freight Office will lead coordination of our work to strengthen supply chains – including the FLOW data initiative helping companies and ports make better-informed decisions — so that they can move goods more efficiently and keep costs down for Americans.”

Heading the Freight Office on an acting basis is Allison Dane Camden, a familiar face from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the Team Oberstar days who has been running a similar office in the Washington State DOT for several years.

The Freight Office was established by section 21101 of the IIJA but has taken two years to be spun up. That section is codified at 49 USC 118) and, in §118(d), gives the Office five specific responsibilities (emphasis added):

(d) Administration of Policies and Programs.-The Freight Office shall-

(1) develop and manage-(A) the national freight strategic plan described in section 70102; and (B) the National Multimodal Freight Network established under section 70103;

(2)(A) oversee the development and updating of the State freight plans described in section 70202; and (B) provide guidance or best practices relating to the development and updating of State freight plans under that section;

(3)(A) administer multimodal freight grant programs, including multimodal freight grants established under section 117 of title 23; and (B) establish procedures for analyzing and evaluating applications for grants under those programs;

(4) assist States in the establishment of-(A) State freight advisory committees under section 70201; and (B) multi-State freight mobility compacts under section 70204; and

(5) provide to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics input regarding freight data and planning tools.

The press release from DOT was pretty straightforward about the Freight Office hitting points 1, 2, 4, and 5, but we inquired about whether or not the $1.6 billion per year INFRA grant program in 23 U.S.C. §117 was going to be relocated to the Freight Office. (Ed. Note: Congress created INFRA in the FAST Act as a freight-focused megaprojects program, and freight stakeholders were outraged when the Obama Administration, in the first year of the grants, gave $165 million to a Virginia I-95 project that was not particularly freight-focused and then gave $90 million to D.C. to fix the Memorial Bridge, which, then and now, bans truck traffic which makes it freight-irrelevant. IIJA’s move of the program to the Freight Office has to be viewed as Congress’s reaction to that.)

Here’s what a DOT spokesman had to say: “Right now, the Multimodal Freight Office is building up a staff that can tackle the challenges and opportunities facing our supply chain.  Concurrently, Deputy Assistant Secretary Dane Camden is serving on the Senior Review Team for multimodal-focused grants, and the Multimodal Freight Office staff is already at the table reviewing and recommending grant applications. The Multimodal Freight Office will continue to be involved in drafting NOFOs and the selection of grant recipients for the INFRA program.”

Camden is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy. The IIJA created an Assistant Secretary for Multimodal Freight, who is supposed to head the Office and be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but we’ve seen no signs of that as yet.  And, since the law creates another Assistant Secretary, in case anyone in the DOT General Counsel’s office is reading this, someone really needs to update the Code of Federal Regulations in Title 49, Part 1 so that it reflects the establishment of the new Assistant Secretary’s office. And the establishment of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology’s office. And the establishment of the Assistant Secretary for Tribal Government Affairs’ office. And the abolition of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration. And the renaming of the St. Lawrence Seaway. And any other odds and ends that reflect new policies or organizational changes enacted since 2016.

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