September 2, 2015

Fifty years ago today, Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation Alan Boyd sent a letter to President Johnson’s domestic policy advisor, Joseph Califano, transmitting the first round of working papers prepared by the interagency Task Force on Transportation Legislation. The papers covered nine different areas of transportation policy, and the letter noted that, “On the question of reorganization, the recommendation is for a Department of Transportation. There seems to be widespread agreement within the Government that this is the most logical course.”

But it is important to note that the eventually-successful push for a DOT (which would be headed by Boyd, as the first Secretary of Transportation) was just a part of a larger transportation agenda. The other papers addressed areas that are still under debate today, including the proper relation of trucking-related taxes to car-related taxes to finance the highway program, the degree to which aviation and waterway systems should be financed by system users, the degree to which cost effectiveness should be a consideration in highway safety policy, the need for federally subsidized transportation research, and ways to coordinate highway and mass transit projects in cities. There was also discussion of the liberalization of federal regulation of transportation rates, routes, and modal operations, which make it clear that the deregulation of aviation, trucking, and railroad carriers that came to fruition under President Carter were part of a lengthy, slow-moving change in government philosophy that started under President Kennedy and continued under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.

 (Some pages appear warped because the National Archives won’t let you remove original documents from their binding while taking photographs.)