Alan S. Boyd, 1st DOT, Secretary, dies
Delivered the consolidating law through Congress
Then helped implement the multi-modal department
For years, the trip from the FAA Headquarters to the Department of Transportation’s Palace caused some of the oldtimers to remember the good old days when the aviation safety agency was an independent organization. Help from the Secretary and staff was rarely welcomed and likely to delay the publication of a time sensitive document or policy.
The recent death of Alan S. Boyd occasioned some research about one of his signature career achievements—the delivery of the DOT and its capture of the FAA. Below are his obituary, the history of the DOT and a video celebrating 50 years of this cabinet department (all edited for aviation focus). They provide useful insights into examining the birth of today’s third largest (measured in budget dollars) executive branch.
January 1967 swearing in Justice Douglas(?), Sec. & Mrs. Boyd and President Johnson
Oct. 19, 2020 at 9:41 p.m. EDT
Alan S. Boyd, a lawyer and chief executive who helped establish the Transportation Department and served as its first secretary under President Lyndon B. Johnson, building a sprawling executive department that brought together more than 30 federal agencies, died Oct. 18 at a retirement home in Seattle. He was 98.
…Sworn in as transportation secretary in January 1967, Mr. Boyd coordinated the country’s overarching transportation policy, giving equal weight to plane, train and automobile travel. His efforts laid the foundation for a Cabinet-level agency that has grown from a $5.5 billion to $76.5 billion budget, with a role in highway safety as well as the Saint Lawrence Seaway.
During his two years as secretary, Mr. Boyd focused on issues ranging from auto safety and driver education to air-traffic control and highway beautification. He also spearheaded two major policy proposals that were later adopted by the Nixon administration: the creation of an aviation trust fund for airport and airway spending, and an increased federal commitment to mass transit.
… served as President Jimmy Carter’s chief negotiator on an aviation agreement with Britain, ran Amtrak for four years and chaired the North American wing of Airbus, helping grow the European aircraft manufacturer into a serious rival to Boeing before retiring in 1992.
“He had pretty much the most well-rounded resume of just about anyone in American transportation in recent years,” said Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation.
Mr. Boyd had by then flunked out of the University of Florida and enlisted in the Army Air Forces. He flew C-47 transport planes in Europe, ferrying paratroopers to Normandy during the D-Day invasion, and attended law school on the advice of an Army friend. He joined a Miami law firm whose partners included U.S. Rep. George A. Smathers (D), who enlisted Mr. Boyd to work on his successful 1950 election to the U.S. Senate.
When a seat came open at the Civil Aeronautics Board, Smathers called Mr. Boyd, offering to suggest him for the job. Mr. Boyd had been mulling a run for Florida governor and initially rejected the offer; after changing his mind, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to the post in 1959.
Mr. Boyd chaired the CAB under President John F. Kennedy, emerging as a forceful advocate of airline consolidation and cost-cutting measures at a time when the industry was grappling with more than $35 million in annual losses. Beginning in 1961, he also developed a close relationship with Johnson, who was then vice president.
When Johnson’s private plane crashed in Texas that year, killing the only two people who were on board, Mr. Boyd began investigating the crash for the CAB. He updated Johnson on the investigation in daily phone calls, earning his trust. In 1965, after Johnson became president, he appointed Mr. Boyd undersecretary of commerce for transportation.
After the White House decided to revive a long-standing proposal to create a department of transportation, Mr. Boyd co-chaired a task force to study the issue, then drafted legislation to create the Transportation Department.
[see below for added detail of the proposal’s conception, delivery and implementation.]
“I’ve been running — if I can use that term advisedly — very large organizations for a long time,” he told The Washington Post in a farewell interview in 1982, before joining Airbus. “And it’s challenging, it’s pleasant and it’s wearing. I feel a need to be in an environment where I’m getting fairly close to an assistant, a secretary, and nobody else.”
…Just before he left office in June 1965, FAA Administrator Najeeb Halaby wrote to President Johnson and suggested that transportation be elevated to a cabinet-level post, and that the FAA be folded into the DOT. Halaby later wrote, “I guess I was a rarity – an independent agency head proposing to become less independent.”
After four-and-a-half years as administrator, Halaby had concluded that the agency could do a better job as part of an executive department that incorporated other government transportation programs. In particular, he had become increasingly frustrated over the development of a supersonic transport, because he thought the Defense Department had locked the FAA out of the administration’s decision making for the program. Halaby decided that a Department of Transportation was essential to secure decisive transportation policy development. ”
President Johnson, not yet thinking of a new department, had told both Connor and Boyd upon their appointments, that he wanted a bold and imaginative transportation program for the upcoming year. Halaby’s subsequent suggestion proved bolder than anyone could have imagined.
Halaby’s letter caused a stir within the White House. It was not only the novelty of a transportation department, but that it came from the head of the FAA. Halaby had long been associated with those who had fought for an independent aviation agency. If his views were shared by a part of the aviation community, one of the major obstacles to reorganization would be eliminated.
Charles Schultze, director of the Bureau of the Budget, and Joseph A. , Jr., … urged Boyd, to explore the prospects of having a transportation department initiative prepared as part of Johnson’s 1966 legislative program. Boyd created a task force to study the issue, and on October 22, 1965, the task force submitted recommendations that advocated the establishment of a Department of Transportation. The task force suggested the new department include the Federal Aviation Agency, the Bureau of Public Roads, the Coast Guard, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, the Great Lakes Pilotage Association, the Car Service Division of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the subsidy function of the Civil Aeronautics Board, and the Panama Canal.
The new FAA Administrator, William McKee, however, did not share his predecessor’s views and strongly opposed the plan. He feared that a new transportation department would lack the proper orientation and expertise needed for the specialized technologies needed in aviation. More importantly, he wanted to keep his agency’s direct access to the White House. Once McKee argued his case, however, he informed President Johnson that he would accept the president’s final decision.
In his January 1966 State of the Union address, Johnson announced his intention to create a Department of Transportation. Many within the FAA and aviation community applauded the announcement believing an integrated transportation system would benefit aviation. Two months later, on March 6, 1966, Johnson sent Congress a bill to establish a Department.
The two important differences between President Johnson’s proposal and the final DOT Act were: the Maritime Administration was left out, and the actions of the FAA Administrator relating to safety, and the decisions of the NTSB, were designated “administratively final” with appeals only to the courts.
With the stroke of his pen, President Johnson created the fourth largest federal agency and brought approximately 95,000 employees in to the new organization.
The DOT Act also created within the new Department a five-member National Transportation Safety Board. The act charged the NTSB with (1) determining the cause or probable cause of transportation accidents and reporting the facts, conditions, and circumstances relating to such accidents; and (2) reviewing on appeal the suspension, amendment, modification, revocation, or denial of any certificate or license issued by the Secretary or by an Administrator. In the exercise of its functions, powers, and duties, the Board was made independent of the Secretary and the [Alan Stephenson Boyd] other offices and officers of the Department.
Three months after signing the DOT Act, on January 16, 1968, Johnson appointed the first Secretary of Transportation, Alan Boyd. The new Department began full operations on April 1, 1967.
As part of the DOT’s 50th anniversary, a most interesting video of the then living Secretaries of Transportation was produced. Secretary Boyd was prominent in this “history”:
Click on this — https://youtu.be/xaq6JKJ5m8g
This month the US DOT began its year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary with all the former Secretaries invited to the event. The most notable among the invitees was the first Secretary of the new agency, Alan Boyd, age 93. In addition to that very notable distinction, Alan Boyd was among the guiding forces in the creation of the Department for several years before its birth, as Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation.
Noted transportation reporter and essayist Jeff Davis, Senior Fellow and Editor of the Eno Transportation Weekly, interviewed Secretary Boyd at his hotel before the DOT opening event on February 3. Also, in the discussion were Alan Pisarski of the History Committee and Secretary Boyd’s son, Mark. The edited recordings of those discussions are now transcribed and available in three parts as prepared by Jeff Davis. Secretary Boyd’s memoir will be published later this year.
Ultimately the institution was well conceived, thanks to the Honorables Halaby and Boyd. If anything, one could fault those in this multi-modal organization for not seeing the issues which have applicability in more than one sector ( such as unmanned aircraft and autonomous ground vehicles). Yes, the added layer of review does delay, but the FAA benefits from the Secretary’s clout at the cabinet level. Perhaps the most institutional benefit of the 1967 legislation was the provision that designated the actions of the FAA Administrator relating to safety, and thus “administratively final” with appeals only to the courts.
 Thomas Jefferson recognized the need for a National Department of Transportation, but it was 92 years later before the official recognition of the Roads Department, which led to the eventual creation of the Department of Transportation.
 The FAA official history shows no further disagreement between the Secretary and this Administrator.
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