June 21-22, 1966: DOT Act of 1966 Moves Through Subcommittee

Fifty years ago today, on June 21, 1966 (also a Tuesday), the bill creating a new Department of Transportation got its first consideration in a Congressional committee. A subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee began a two-day executive session to consider the bill (H.R. 13200). The first day was a walk-through of the bill and the changes proposed by the subcommittee chairman with Administration officials (including future Transportation Secretary Alan Boyd, who was then Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Transportation), which starts on page 717 of the last volume of printed hearings, here. Day two of the executive session was the markup, where the subcommittee debated and amended the bill, and Team Eno has retrieved that raw transcript from the National Archives and made it available here.

There was one big structural change made by subcommittee chairman Chet Holifield (D-CA), the original sponsor of the bill in the House. The bill as transmitted by the White House created a Department to be headed by a Secretary and staffed by an Under Secretary (what is now called the Deputy Secretary), four Assistant Secretaries, and a General Counsel, all of which were to be appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The bill also transferred to the Secretary of Transportation “all functions, powers, and duties” of the Commerce Secretary, the Treasury Secretary, the FAA Administrator, the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Interstate Commerce Commission relating to the functions of those entities being transferred to the new DOT. But there was nothing in the original bill saying that the FAA, the Bureau of Public Roads, etc. would maintain an independent existence within the new Department, or who would run any such entities.

Instead, on May 31, Alan Boyd and Budget Bureau Deputy Director Charles Zwick met with Rep. Chet Hollifield (D-CA), the House subcommittee chairman in charge of the bill. The three men agreed on several changes in the bill, including a new paragraph providing that in addition to the four Assistant Secretaries and a General Counsel, the new Department would also have four modal Administrations (Highway, Railroad, Maritime and Aviation), each with an Administrator appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. This agreement was outlined in a June 1 memo that is available in this PDF compilation of internal White House memos.

When asked on June 21 about the revised provision creating the modal administrations, Boyd said that “This is not what the administration proposed in the legislation, Mr. Chairman, It is something that I can only say in candor, we accept quite cheerfully and think it makes a great deal of sense.” Zwick said that the Administration had planned to create modal administrations executively and have their Administrators appointed by the Secretary, not the President, but that this had not been spelled out in the original Administration bill.

Subcommittee member John Erlenborn (R-IL) offered an amendment to restructure this provision so that there would be Highway, Railroad, Maritime and Aviation Divisions (not Administrations) and have each Division headed by an Assistant Secretary appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. Erlenborn thought that having four modal Administrators and four Assistant Secretaries with no defined duties was redundant, asking “If you are going to have four operating divisions in this department, just what will these assistant secretaries do?” Holifield responded that “As I see it, this is a thing separate and apart from the day-to-day responsibility of operating railroads and operating Maritime and so forth. In other words, I think you have to have a separate staff to do the very job we are telling him to do, to develop this coordinated policy, in other words, not to be bothered with a day-to-day administration of the railroads and so forth. The administrator would do that, and these people would be free and not burdened with the routine administration of the four modes, and be free to serve with the Secretary on this important job of developing recommendations and so forth to bring to Congress.”

After discussion, Erlenborn agreed to modify his amendment so that it only required the new Administrators to “report directly to the Secretary” instead of going through an Assistant Secretary, and the amendment was agreed to.

Another change added by Holifield in his subcommittee mark was a tweak to section 7 of the bill, which gave the Secretary of Transportation authority to “revise standards and criteria….for the formulation and evaluation of all proposals for the investment of Federal funds in transportation facilities or equipment…” The original Administration language included some exceptions to the Secretary’s power, including the Panama Canal, foreign aid, and Pentagon transportation procurement. Holifield added “grant-in-aid programs authorized by law” to the exemption list. Holifield said that “We had some witnesses before us, that were very much alarmed that there would be an encroachment upon the present highway trust fund, and I was assured by Mr. Boyd that there was no such encroachment planned, and therefore, we have written in in a reassurance to those that were concerned.”

Holifield also tweaked the language in section 7 relating to water projects – in the original bill, the Secretary’s standards for the transportation features of Corps of Engineers water projects had to be developed “after consultation with the Water Resources Council,” but Holifleld changed this in the subcommittee mark to “upon concurrence of the Water Resources Council.”

Erlenborn responded with another amendment providing that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize, without appropriate action by Congress, the adoption or revision of investment standards or criteria.” His amendment was defeated by a vote of three yeas to six nays. (He did get a meaningless amendment to section 4(e) of the bill adopted by voice vote that provided that the Secretary’s investment standards could not violate those in statute.)

Erlenborn had one more interesting amendment – he proposed that mass transit be taken away from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and placed in the new Department of Transportation. (The Administration’s bill called for a one-year joint study between HUD and DOT as to where transit should be placed.) Erlenborn said that “I have maintained a consistent attitude that if we are going to have a transportation department we ought to have all transportation programs in it. I saw no reason for this exception.” This amendment was defeated by a vote of three yeas, six nays.

The text of H.R. 13200 as approved by the subcommittee was then reintroduced in the House as a “clean bill” (H.R. 15963), the text of which is here. The committee summary of all the changes made in subcommittee can be found here.

Our Documentary History of the Creation of the U.S. Department of Transportation webpage has been updated with all of the above documents and a few more, including:


Search Eno Transportation Weekly

Latest Issues

Happening on the Hill