Ever since the first Congress authorized a lighthouse on Cape Henry, Virginia as an aid to ships sailing through Hampton Roads, the Congress of the United States has been involved in providing for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. In the more than two hundred years since the Cape Henry Lighthouse first shown out across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the Committees of the House of Representatives responsible for public works and infrastructure have changed names and grown in scope. What was once the Rivers and Harbors Committee is now the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. However, the mission remains essentially the same: provide a strong backbone upon which the nation’s people and commerce can flourish.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee currently has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation: aviation, maritime and waterborne transportation, roads, bridges, mass transit, and railroads. But the Committee has jurisdiction over other aspects of our national infrastructure, such as clean water and waste water management, the transport of resources by pipeline, flood damage reduction, the economic development of depressed rural and urban areas, disaster preparedness and response, activities of the Army Corps of Engineers and the various missions of the Coast Guard.
When combined, these areas of jurisdiction provide a comprehensive view of how communities across the United States are connected to one another, how infrastructure affects the growth and flow of commerce at home and abroad, and how an effective government can improve the lives of its citizens.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with 59 Members, is one of the largest committee in Congress. Its six subcommittees are:
The Subcommittee on Aviation has jurisdiction over all aspects of civil aviation, including safety, infrastructure, labor, and international issues. This jurisdiction includes all aspects of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) except for research activities, which are within the jurisdiction of the Science Committee.
Prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks, the number of air travelers in the United States had reached record levels and had begun to strain the existing infrastructure capacity. For several years after the attacks, the demand for air travel decreased and the impending capacity crunch was delayed while officials in the Federal government, at the airlines and at airports dealt with many new security issues.
Demand has returned to pre-9/11 levels, however, and the Subcommittee will continue to contend with existing capacity and security concerns, as well as an aging air traffic control system.
The Aviation Subcommittee is also traditionally the lead subcommittee with jurisdiction over the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal agency responsible for investigating civil aviation accidents and other transportation accidents. The essential air service program, which ensures commercial air service to smaller communities, the war risk insurance program, which provides insurance coverage for commercial flights to high-risk parts of the world, and passenger and cargo commercial space transportation also fall within the purview of the Aviation Subcommittee.
Issues and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Aviation Subcommittee include:
The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation has jurisdiction over the activities of the United States Coast Guard, including its duties, organization, functions, personnel, the Coast Guard Academy, the Coast Guard Reserve, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
The Coast Guard performs a variety of traditional missions, including search and rescue, illegal drug and migrant interdiction, oil spill prevention and response, marine safety, maintaining aids to navigation, icebreaking operations, enforcement of U.S. fisheries laws, and defense readiness. Since September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard is also the lead agency responsible for maritime homeland security.
The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over regulation of ocean shipping and non-national security aspects of the merchant marine, including activities of the Federal Maritime Commission.
Issues and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee include:
The Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management oversees a broad range of Federal programs and activities.
The Subcommittee conducts oversight of programs addressing the Federal management of emergencies and natural disasters, an issue that gained more prominence following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy of 2005. The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security’s other disaster management responsibilities; the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Assistance Act and its mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery programs; the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act; and several first responder programs.
The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over agencies and programs promoting economic development in communities suffering economic distress, such as the Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The Subcommittee also is responsible for oversight of Federal real estate programs and the Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the General Services Administration (GSA): the civilian landlord of the Federal Government.
Issues and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee include:
The Subcommittee on Highways and Transit is primarily charged with responsibilities relating to the construction of roads and transit facilities and the development of national surface transportation policy, including safety and research measures. As such, the Subcommittee has jurisdiction over many programs of the Department of Transportation (DOT).
The foremost legislative product of the Subcommittee is the reauthorization of the Federal highway, transit and highway safety programs. Currently reauthorized approximately every six years, this legislation represents an investment in the nation’s infrastructure that translates into safer travel, more efficient commerce, and the creation of thousands of jobs.
An important feature of this legislation, first enacted in the 1998 reauthorization and continued through the 2005 bill, is the budgetary “firewalls” that place highway and transit spending in categories separate from all other domestic discretionary spending. These firewalls guarantee that gas taxes are used for their intended purpose – transportation projects – and not to fatten the Treasury in order to mask greater spending in other unrelated programs.
Issues and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee include:
The Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials has jurisdiction over the economic and safety regulation of railroads and the agencies that administer those regulations. Economic regulation is administered by the three-member Surface Transportation Board (STB). This independent agency also has the authority to address national emergencies as they affect the nation’s rail transportation system.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for administering railroad safety laws, railroad infrastructure and development programs, possesses responsibilities relevant to homeland security, and has federal oversight of Amtrak.
Amtrak is the nation’s major provider of intercity passenger rail service. Also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak was established by law in 1970, required to assume the responsibility for the money-losing passenger services of the private sector railroads in the United States. The Subcommittee continues to oversee efforts to increase efficiency and accountability in Amtrak’s operations.
The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the railroad retirement and unemployment systems, as well as rail labor relations.
In the 110th Congress, some issues previously under the jurisdiction of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee were transferred to the former Railroads Subcommittee. The transportation of hazardous materials and the issue of pipeline safety now fall under the scope of this subcommittee, renamed the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.
Issues and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee include:
The jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment consists generally of matters relating to water resources development, conservation and management, water pollution control and water infrastructure, and hazardous waste cleanup. A number of agencies administer programs that address one or more of these issues; two agencies in particular, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), oversee the larger programs of concern to the Subcommittee.
Through its Civil Works Program, the Corps constructs projects for the purposes of navigation, flood control, beach erosion control and shoreline protection, hydroelectric power, recreation, water supply, environmental protection, restoration and enhancement, and fish and wildlife mitigation. Barring the smallest projects, which the Corps can undertake without full Congressional authorization, these projects traditionally are contained in two-year water resources development acts.
EPA has the primary responsibility for carrying out the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly known as the Clean Water Act. This act provides for a major Federal/state program to protect, restore, and maintain the quality of the nation’s waters. Although EPA is responsible for carrying out the Act, significant parts of the program may be administered by the states if approved by EPA.
Issues and agencies under the jurisdiction of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee include