Equity Guides Initiatives at USDOT

Buttigieg Leads Departmentwide Focus
Capitol Agenda Eugene Mulero

[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]

It has been more than two years since the enactment of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law, and questions about equity linger.

The national transportation apparatus is often perceived as an egalitarian service. However, amid accessibility challenges, the Biden administration is pursuing equity strategies as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s labyrinthine implementation.

Fielding questions from members of the House of Representatives in December specific to equity’s complexity, Carlos Monje, undersecretary of transportation for policy, offered a definition.

“Equity means a lot of things for us, you know. And it’s a question of making sure that people have access to the decision-making process,” Monje told the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Dec. 13.

Carlos Monje


“It’s making sure that as we put these projects on the ground that those jobs, which don’t require a college degree in many cases and are a pathway to the middle class, that more people have access to those jobs.

“It means making sure that people with disabilities have access, as well, and also making sure that we are being cognizant of the impacts of both the benefits and the costs of the projects and building better than we knew how to do in the 1960s.”

This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled an update to its Equity Action Plan for 2023. The plan’s central themes entail wealth creation, power of community, proactive intervention planning and capacity building, expanding access and institutionalizing equity.

“The Biden-Harris administration believes that transportation can be a powerful engine of opportunity — and that’s why we have made it a priority to bring good infrastructure to all communities, including those who have not fairly benefited from past infrastructure investments,” Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Feb. 14, presenting an argument for respecting the dynamism of equity in America. “The U.S. Department of Transportation is proud to outline progress we’ve made and further actions we are taking this year to bring the benefits and jobs of transportation to all Americans, whether they live in a big city, a rural community or anywhere in between.”

To this point, DOT identified barriers it argued exhibited potential for derailing its vision for equity.

Pete Buttigieg


According to the updated plan, a barrier to achieving equity is associated with limited expertise. As the department explained, “Equity is relatively new as a priority focus for DOT at the level of a departmentwide strategic goal. Many staff have limited experience and expertise applying an equity lens to their work. It can be challenging to access outside expertise through formal mechanisms, such as contracting, hiring and advisory groups.”

Importantly, officials assured the plan “will be updated on an annual basis to reflect new metrics and actions DOT will be taking to ensure that all communities receive the benefits that transportation brings and are not left out or made to shoulder disproportionate burdens caused by transportation infrastructure.”

The Week Ahead

Daniel Maffei


Feb. 27, 2:30 p.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets for a hearing titled “Understanding the Presence of Microplastics in Water.”

Feb. 28, 10 a.m.: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets for a hearing titled “Water Resources Development Act 2024: USACE Water Infrastructure Projects, Programs and Priorities.”

Feb. 28, 10 a.m.: The Senate Commerce Committee meets for a hearing to review the nomination of Daniel Maffei to be chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.

Freight Corridor

Congress with a case of the Mondays.

Legislative Docket

Legislation meant to ensure border security staff remain at commercial ports of entry was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate. The Keeping International Land Ports of Entry Open Act would seek to prohibit the Biden administration from reassigning U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel processing cargo at ports of entry to attend to migrants on the southern border. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was introduced after the Senate opted not to consider a Republican-led comprehensive immigration bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz


“Joe Biden is harming American farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, truckers and consumers by prioritizing welcoming illegal aliens over facilitating lawful commerce,” Cruz said Feb. 9. “Joe Biden’s policy of transferring [Customs and Border Protection] agents from facilitating commercial border crossings to instead welcoming in illegal aliens has caused millions of dollars of economic damage.”

According to background information the sponsors provided, the bill includes a “built-in accountability mechanism and requires the secretary of homeland security to notify the House, Senate and the American people what exception applies if he seeks to relocate staff and close a port of entry.”

Other bill sponsors include Republican Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Mike Lee of Utah.


DOT’s funding authority expires March 1, and House Republicans are unlikely to be asked to consider another short-term fix to avert a shutdown. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the chamber’s majority whip, indicated Republican leaders are pursuing long-term strategies for approving fiscal 2024 measures. Those strategies would mark a departure from Congress’ recent reliance on short-term measures to fund federal agencies.

Rep. Tom Emmer


“When we come back, the key is going to be what are the packages that are put on the floor; what’s going to drive the votes that will get them across the line. But we should be there before the first deadline of March 1 and then, of course, we got the second deadline, which is March 8,” Emmer told Bloomberg News on Feb. 15. “You’re not going to get another [short-term] continuing resolution out of our conference in Congress. The last one was difficult.”

Last year, the Senate advanced a $98.9 billion fiscal 2024 appropriations bill for DOT and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. House Republicans have not advanced their version of the fiscal 2024 transportation bill. The Senate-passed and House appropriations bills would each provide nearly $1 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Favorite Video

POTUS reflects on East Palestine’s rail derailment.

X Marks the Spot

For some, it’s always sunny in the Evergreen State.

The Last Word

We will work with artists in the hip-hop community to support legislation that empowers our people.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) on Feb. 14

Rep. Delia Ramirez

We publish Mondays when Congress is in session. See previous installments of Capitol Agenda here. Email emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing below or go here for more info: