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US DOT History

A guide to the history of the US Department of Transportation

Alan Stephenson Boyd

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Alan Boyd

On January 16, 1967, Judge James Durfee of the U.S. Court of Claims administered the oath of office to Alan S. Boyd in the East Room of the White House as Mrs. Boyd and President and Mrs. Johnson looked on. The President said Secretary Boyd's major assignment as the first Secretary of Transportation would be to "coordinate a National Transportation Policy.”

 

A key figure in the establishment and organization of the new department, Secretary Boyd served as the Undersecretary of Commerce for Transportation and had six yearsexperience with the Civil Aeronautics Board before becoming Secretary of TransportationDuring his tenure, Boyd issued the first national highway safety and Federal motor carrier vehicle standards and oversaw the transfer of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Transportation. He later served as president of Amtrak (1978-1982) and joined the Airbus Industries of North America. He received numerous awards including the Tony Jannus Award for his contributions to commercial Aviation (1994) the the Philip J. Klass Award for lifetime achievement from Aviation Week & Space Technology (2009).  

 

Photograph:Alan Stephenson Boyd, left, shakes hands with President Lyndon Johnson after taking the oath of office as the nation's first Secretary of Transportation in 1967.

Alan Stephenson Boyd, left, shakes hands with President Lyndon Johnson after taking the oath of office as the nation's first Secretary of Transportation in 1967.

John Anthony Volpe

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe

On January 22, 1969, Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the oath of office to Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe in a White House ceremony as President Richard Nixon looked on. Volpe was the first Federal Highway Administrator to later become Secretary of Transportation.

 

During Volpe’s tenure, he established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a separate operating administration,  and passed laws to modernize the nation's airport-airways system, upgrade urban transit systems (using the highway trust fund for the first time), and created the national rail passenger system (Amtrak). With Volpe appointee General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the Federal Aviation Administration instituted an anti-hijacking program. In 1990, the National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass., was renamed in honor of then-former Secretary Volpe.

John A. Volpe (left) is sworn in as the first Federal Highway Administrator on October 22, 1956. President Eisenhower holds the Bible while Frank K. Sanderson (right), White House administrative officer, administers the oath of office. 

Claude Stout Brinegar

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Claude Brinegar

Chief Justice Warren Burger administered the oath of office to Claude Brinegar, along with 19 other Cabinet and sub-Cabinet members, on February 2, 1973. Although President Richard Nixon introduced the Chief Justice at the ceremony, the President did not stay to watch his nominees take the oath office because of a meeting at the British Embassy.

 

Secretary Brinegar confronted railroad revitalization and regulatory reform, reauthorization of Federal highway programs, and the impact of transportation on energy consumption and on the environment. During his tenure, he championed legislation that led to the creation of Conrail, the Government-owned freight railroad in the Northeast, adoption of a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour to conserve fuel, and the creation of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.  Later, Brinegar became vice chairman of the Unocal Corporation and served a four-year stint as a visiting scholar at his alma mater, Stanford.

 

An avid collector of Mark Twain first editions and related memorabilia, he proved by statistical tests that Twain was  the author of a collection of letters attributed to him. Elmira College awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1997 for his public service and Twain-related work.

 

Secretary Brinegar and Gerald Ford, Photo Credit: Stanford Alumni Magazine: July/August 2009, Class Notes, Farewells.

William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr.

On March 7, 1975, in a White House ceremony, William T. Coleman, Jr., became the first African American to serve as Secretary of Transportation. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Coleman’s friend and colleague, administered the oath of office. President Ford told the guests that the new Secretary had a mandate to help save energy, develop mass transportation, strengthen the railroads, and ensure an equitable and stern enforcement of the 55 m.p.h. speed limit brought on by oil shortages. His tenure would be marked by direct involvement in settling highway controversies.

 

During Coleman's tenure, he created the first Statement of National Transportation Policy in U.S. history. He also opened the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's automobile test facility at East Liberty, Ohio, and established the Materials Transportation Bureau to address pipeline safety and the safe shipment of hazardous materials. In what could be regarded as his most controversial decision, Coleman allowed limited transatlantic service for the supersonic transport plane, the Concorde, a decision that angered the majority of environmental groups concerned largely with the effects of noise pollution. Close on the heels of the Concorde decision (in terms of controversy) was Coleman's decision to defer the mandatory installation of airbags in all new automobiles. On leaving the department, Coleman returned to Philadelphia and subsequently became a partner in the Washington office of the Los Angeles-based law firm O'Melveny & Myers. In 1983, with the election quickly approaching, the Reagan administration stopped supporting the IRS's position against Bob Jones University that overtly discriminatory groups were ineligible for certain tax exemptions. Coleman was appointed to argue the now unsupported lower court position before the Supreme Court, and won in Bob Jones University v. United States. On September 29, 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

William T. Coleman, Thurgood Marshall, and Wiley A. Branton. Credit: Cover of the Journal of Supreme Court History 1999, Vol 24, No. 2, a publication of the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Brock Adams

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Brockman "Brock" Adams

In a low-key ceremony, Chief Justice Warren Burger swore in Brock Adams as Secretary of Transportation on February 1, 1977. Burger also administered the oath to other Cabinet members at the same time.

 

As Secretary, Adams challenged the auto industry to make dramatic changes in design to achieve greater fuel efficiency and mandated the installation of airbags. He strongly supported significant regulatory reform in transportation, and oversaw a major program for repair and improvement of railway service along the Boston-to-Washington corridor. He also achieved domestic airline deregulation in 1978 legislation. Adams later served as the senior U. S. Senator for the State of Washington.

Brock Adams

Neil Edward Goldschmidt

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Edward Goldschmidt

Multnomah County, Ore., Circuit Court Judge Irving Steinbock administered the oath of office to Neil Goldschmidt on August 15, 1971, with Goldschmidt’s wife, Margaret, and President Jimmy Carter in attendance.

 

During his tenure, Goldschmidt oversaw the enactment of regulations for child restraints in vehicles, and established the new Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization established within the Department. Under his term, both the Stagger Rail Act and the Motor Carrier Act were passed, which deregulated the railroad and trucking industries, respectively. He also created the National Task Force on Ridesharing to encourage carpooling and vanpooling as ways to save fuel. Goldschmidt served as Governor of Oregon from 1987-1991; after leaving office, he opened his own law practice.

Other accomplishments include serving as the youngest mayor of a major city in American history (Portland, Oregon, 1973-1979), working as senior executive with Nike for several years, and creating the Oregon Children's Foundation and the Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) literacy program.

 

Neil Goldschmidt (right) with Fujitsu President Mr. T. Yamamoto, August 1987

Neil Goldschmidt (right) with Fujitsu President Mr. T. Yamamoto, August 1987, announcing the company's plans to build a semiconductor wafer fabrication plant in Gresham, Credit: photograph by Max Gutierrez

Andrew Lindsay Lewis Jr.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Andrew Lindsay Lewis, Jr.

As Secretary, Lewis led the administration’s support for legislation to allow the sale of the Government's interest in Conrail. In 1981, the Maritime Administration moved from the Commerce Department to DOT. During the PATCO (the air traffic controllers union) strike in 1981, Lewis, working with the Federal Aviation Administration, helped to keep the air transport system running safely. He provided support that led to passage of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, a comprehensive transportation funding and policy act. The companion Highway Revenue Act of 1982 added a nickel to the gas tax (the first such increase since 1961), with four cents dedicated to restoring interstate highways and bridges, and one cent for public transit. The Act also set a goal of 10 percent for participation of disadvantaged business enterprises in federal-aid projects. Lewis went on to chair the Union Pacific Corporation in Bethlehem, Pa.

 

Drew Lewis, as Secretary of Transportation, discussing the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981.Credit: Ron Edmonds/Associated Press

Elizabeth Hanford Dole

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Hanford Dole

On February 1, 1983, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor administered the oath of office to Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of Transportation. President Ronald Reagan looked on as Mrs. Mary Hanford, Dole's mother, held the Bible.

Secretary Dole helped resolve many safety-related issues, resulting in deadlines for installing airbags and other passive restraints in motor vehicles, major increases in seat belt usage by the public, and incentives to manufacturers who equipped new cars with airbags. She turned over the Federal Aviation Administration's National and Dulles airports in the Washington, D.C., area to a regional authority and was a leader in privatizing Federal assets, including the $1.9 billion sale of Government-owned Conrail. Mrs. Dole later served as the president of the Red Cross.

 

First Lady Nancy Reagan, hosting a lunch for spouses of Senators, is greeted by Elizabeth Dole in the Blue Room, June 15, 1988

James Horace Burnley IV

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation James Horace Burnley IV

Burnley was sworn in by Judge Kenneth Starr in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, with President Ronald Reagan in attendance, on December 3, 1987. Burnley served as Deputy Secretary and General Counsel during Secretary Dole's administration and was appointed Secretary in 1987 following her departure.

As Secretary, he emphasized programs to eliminate drug use by issuing regulations that required testing employees in safety- or security-sensitive positions in transportation-related industries. He implemented policies to encourage greater private sector participation in meeting transportation needs, and supported Coast Guard efforts to upgrade equipment and facilities. Burnley moved on to the law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts, and Trowbridge.

 

President Ronald Reagan announced his nominee to head the Department of Transportation, James Burnley IV, October 8, 1987, credit: screenshot from C-SPAN

 

Samuel Knox Skinner

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Samuel Knox Skinner

U.S. District Court Judge Joel M. Flaum administered the oath of office to Samuel Skinner on February 6, 1989, in the Federal Aviation Administration auditorium, with President Reagan and Illinois Governor James R. Thompson in attendance.

Dubbed the “Master of Disaster," Skinner handled crises that included the Eastern Airlines strike, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a California earthquake, Hurricane Hugo, and civilian transportation support for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He issued a comprehensive National Transportation Policy to guide transportation into the 21st century. During his tenure, legislation was passed to reduce aircraft noise, expand airport capacity, and authorize a landmark Federal surface transportation program. Skinner became White House Chief of Staff in December 1991.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Federal Minister of the Interior (Germany), and Samuel Skinner shaking hands in Bonn,  April 1989. Credit:  Arne Schambeck

Andrew Hill Card, Jr.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of State Andrew Hill Card, Jr.

On March 11, 1992, Supreme Court Justice Clarence D. Thomas administered the oath of Office to Card under a DC-3 in the main hall of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

During the summer of 1992, President Bush named Card to head a task force to coordinate Federal disaster recovery efforts following Hurricane Andrew, which, at the time of its occurrence, was the most devastating natural disaster in recent American history. The destructive hurricane swept across the Bahamas, devastating the transportation infrastructure and as well as the lives of 200,000 people living on Florida's southeastern coast and in parts of Louisiana. Later in his tenure, Card called for the formation of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics to establish guides for all the data collected by DOT, and to publish this information, making it available inside and outside the Government. Card also signed an agreement with the EPA and Department of the Army, streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act and the Section 404 wetlands permit processes.

Chief of Staff Andrew Card stands by as President George W. Bush talks with World Leaders and members of Congress after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Oval Office, December 14, 2003. Credit: Eric Draper

 

Frederico Fabian Peña

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Fabian Peña

Chief Justice William Rehnquist swore in 16 Clinton nominees simultaneously, including Federico Peña as Secretary of Transportation. Peña began his service as the twelfth Secretary of Transportation on January 21, 1993. Peña later served as Secretary of Energy under President Clinton.

During his term, Peña increased the global competitiveness of the transportation industry, improved the safety of travel, streamlined the Department of Transportation, and invested more in the nation's infrastructure than any other Secretary serving before him. Among his accomplishments, Peña signed aviation agreements with 40 nations, opening lucrative markets for American airlines and cargo carriers as well as fostering easier travel for Americans and tourists to the United States. He also downsized the DOT workforce by 11,000 positions, while upsizing transportation infrastructure investments by 10 percent. Upon leaving DOT, Peña joined the private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners.

Federico Peña being sworn in as Mayor of Denver, Credit: Colorado Virtual Library

Rodney Earl Slater

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Earl Slater

In a ceremony held in the Oval Office on February 14, 1997, Rodney E. Slater was sworn in as the Secretary of Transportation. The oath of office was administered by Tennessee Federal District Judge Curtis Collier, a friend of Mr. Slater’s from his hometown of Marianna, Ark. Slater was nominated to the post after serving as Federal Highway Administrator. President Clinton said in nominating Slater, "He has built bridges both of steel and of goodwill to bring people closer together."  Slater was the second person in history to hold both the Federal Highway Administration and Secretary posts.

As Secretary, Slater succeeded in gaining bipartisan support in Congress for his projects. In particular, the passage of the Transportation Equity act for the 21st Century made a record $200 billion investment in surface transportation. The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment Reform Act for the 21st Century provided $46 billion to provide safety and security of the nation’s aviation system. Under his leadership, the first International Transportation Symposium was held, with representatives of more than  90 countries in attendance. After his tenure at DOT, Slater joined the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Patton Boggs LLP.

From left to right: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton, U.S. Army; President Bill Clinton; Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio); Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater applauding a fly-by of aircraft from each of the five armed services during the opening ceremonies of the annual joint services open house and air show at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland., May 19, 2000. 

Norman Mineta

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Yoshio Mineta

On January 25, 2001, Norman Y. Mineta was sworn in as Secretary of Transportation by Vice President Dick Cheney in the White House Oval Office, with President George W. Bush in attendance. He had been offered the post eight years previously by Bill Clinton but had turned it down. He was the only Democrat to have served in Bush's Cabinet and the first Secretary of Transportation to have previously served in a Cabinet position, having served as Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton from 2000-2001. He was the first Asian-American to hold the position, and only the fourth person to be a member of the Cabinet under two Presidents from different political parties. Mineta had served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975-1995.

As Secretary of Transportation, Mineta worked to repair and reopen major highways, seaports, and airports after Hurricane Katrina. He oversaw the closing of and reopening of the national airspace system after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He also guided the creation of the Transportation Security Administration – an agency with more than 65,000 employees – the largest mobilization of a new Federal agency since World War II. In mid-December of 2004, Mineta unveiled the Next Generation Air Transportation System plan, a collaboration of six Federal agencies to modernize the air traffic system. After leaving the White House, Mineta served as vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton, based in its Washington, D.C., office, providing counsel and strategic advice to clients on a wide range of business and political issues. Recognized for his leadership, Mineta has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom – our nation’s highest civilian honor – and the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, which is awarded for significant public service of enduring value to aviation in the United States.

 Andy Card and Norman Mineta, September 11, 2001 

Mary E. Peters

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters

On October 17, 2006, Joshua Boton, President Bush’s chief of staff, administered the oath of office, with the President and Ms. Peters’ husband in attendance. In 2001, she had served as the head of the Federal Highway Administration.

As Transportation Secretary, Peters took a hardline approach to efficient use of taxpayer dollars, made surface and air congestion reduction a national priority, and dramatically improved highway safety numbers. She worked with the Administration and Congress to enact a multi-year surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU. She also spearheaded efforts to find new ways to invest in infrastructure. She advocated the concept of public-private partnerships to improve transportation infrastructure. Peters opened a transportation consulting office after leaving the Department.

(from left) Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Herschal Crow, U.S. Senator James Inhofe, Oklahoma Director of Transportation Gary Ridley, and FHWA Administrator Mary E. Peters updated the media on the progress of the cleanup on June 10. From “Making it Happen the Fast Way”, Public Roads: vol. 66, no.3: Nov/Dec 2002.

Ray H. LaHood

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of State Ray H. LaHood

Linda Washington, Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary for Administration, swore in Ray LaHood as the sixteenth U.S. Secretary of Transportation at the Department of Transportation headquarters building on January 23, 2009. LaHood’s wife, Kathy, son, Sam, and Assistant Majority Leader, U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin, observed the ceremony.

As Secretary LaHood changed the way the Department of Transportation viewed its mandate. He shifted DOT’s emphasis on highways to include a larger discussion of mobility options, from high-speed rail to local transit to biking and even walking. Under LaHood, DOT began talking about smart transportation as an essential ingredient in creating more livable and sustainable communities. He emphasized that transportation was inseparable from housing, education, the environment, and the economy. For the first time, the DOT, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development began coordinating policy. In the 21st century transportation model shepherded by LaHood, state and metropolitan leaders had to come up with their own innovative and cost-effective approaches to transportation problems, coordinating with the Federal Government. He is probably best known for his campaign to stop distracted driving. LaHood subsequently became co-chairman of the infrastructure advocacy group Building America’s Future.

President Barack Obama fixes the tie of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as they prepare for an announcement at the Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Anthony Foxx

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx was sworn in as the nation’s seventeenth Secretary of Transportation by Judge Nathaniel Jones in a private ceremony at the Department of Transportation headquarters on July 2, 2013. The ceremony was attended by Foxx’s wife, Samara, and their two children, Hillary and Zachary. He used a Bible belonging to Secretary Foxx’s great-grandparents, Peter and Ida Kelly. After law school, Secretary Foxx worked for Judge Jones as a law clerk for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and invited Judge Jones to administer the oath of office. Prior to his confirmation, Foxx served as the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., from 2009 to 2013.

As Secretary, Anthony Foxx is working to improve safety in all modes of transportation. He has issued a final rule advancing commercial pilot training, launched the Everyone Is a Pedestrian initiative, and shut down more than 100 bus companies with the most egregious safety and compliance problems. He also announced the Federal Government would require vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication in new vehicles, which would help improve safety by allowing vehicles to "talk" to each other so they can warn drivers if a crash is imminent. He issued a record $35 million fine against General Motors because of the automaker’s failure to report a safety defect to the Government in a timely manner. Foxx has overseen billions of dollars in grants for transportation infrastructure improvements, led efforts for new oil train safety efforts, and strengthened ties with international partners.

Vice President Biden swearing-in Secretary Anthony Foxx with his wife Samara and two children, Hillary and Zachary, standing alongside.

Elaine Chao

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao

Elaine Chao was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on January 31, 2017, becoming the first Asian American woman Secretary of Transportation. Having served as Secretary of Labor from 2001 to 2009, Chao is also the first Asian American woman to hold a Cabinet position. On January 7, 2021, Chao resigned following the attack on the United States Capitol.

As Transportation Secretary, Chao prioritized the safe implementation of new technologies. She established the Drone Integration Pilot Program, which fostered public-private partnerships to explore strategies for safely integrating drone operations into our airspace. Chao also created the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council to find and address potential regulatory oversights applicable to emerging industries, such as commercial space flight. In 2019, Chao aimed to tackle disparities in rural transportation infrastructure, establishing the Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success (ROUTES) initiative. Throughout 2020, she oversaw the Department’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, distributing the $114 billion in federal aid allocated by the CARES act to ensure the continued maintenance of the nation’s transportation networks.

Elain Chao at her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Transportation

Elaine Chao at her confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Transportation, 2017

Pete Buttigieg

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg was sworn in as Secretary of Transportation by Vice President Kamala Harris on February 3, 2021. Born in 1982, Buttigieg is the youngest person to serve as Secretary. He is also the first openly gay member of the Presidential Cabinet. From 2012 to 2020, Buttigieg served as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He also served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy, deploying to Afghanistan in 2014.

Buttigieg has made racial equity in transportation planning a top priority as Secretary, launching the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program to help disadvantaged communities fund the removal of infrastructure barriers to connectivity, access, and development. Buttigieg has also focused on roadway safety, supply chain reliability, and consumer protection, working to inform airline passengers of their rights and advocating for the Junk Fee Prevention Act. Buttigieg supported and is now implementing the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which has enabled the DOT to provide grants for transportation projects across the country.

Vice President Kamala Harris swears in Buttigieg as Transportation secretary on February 3, 2021

Vice President Kamala Harris swears in Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation on February 3, 2021.