The Federal Highway Administration was founded in 1893, as the Office of Road Inquiry. The ORI begat the Office of Public Roads, which fell under the purview of the Department of Agriculture, because that made perfect sense at the time, but in 1915, the Office of Public Roads became the Bureau of Public Roads, as bureaus were fashionable in the teens.
The Bureau of Public Roads became the Public Roads Administration under FDR — he was fond of the words “public” and “administration” — but FDR then became enamored of the word “federal”: you can’t spell “federal” without FDR. He placed the Public Roads Administration under the rule of the Federal Works Agency, which was responsible for, amongst other things, “works.”
Ironically, or not at all, the Federal Works Agency was created to combat perceived inefficiency in the executive branch, so it was preordained that the Federal Works Agency would disband ten years later.
The PRA then became the Bureau of Public Roads again (it sounded “Mid-Century Modern”), and it was put under the supervision of the Department of Commerce, which was mildly less silly than putting it in the Department of Agriculture.
Eventually, the Bureau of Public Roads became the Federal Highway Administration, known as the FHWA, because there was already an FHA elsewhere in the government, which wasn’t really fair because that FHA had already acquired the cool nickname “HUD.”
The FHWA, now under the newly created Department of Transportation, adopted the following mission statement:
Improve Mobility on our Nation’s Highways Through National Leadership, Innovation, and Program Delivery.
Which I can’t much distinguish from the DOT mission.
Point being, the FHWA had been around long before the Department of Transportation was created to swallow it up, even though the FHWA mission seemed to be the same as that of the DOT, and the FHWA was not disbanded, and hold your nose because Big Government was just getting started.
Heard of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration? I had not, but being a rube, I was also not aware of the Federal Transit Administration. I had definitely heard of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, though I cannot distinguish its purpose from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Baffled, I put in a call to the National Transportation Safety Board, whence I was transferred to the Surface Transportation Board. They suggested I take a long walk off a short pier — an unauthorized threat which most properly fell under the authority of the DOT’s Maritime Administration — prior to informing me of the existence of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration of the Department of Transportation (a rube twice over, I thought “innovation” was part of the FHWA’s responsibilities). Here, at the administration requiring greater security due to the innovative and necessary asphalt blends, I was handed over to the Transportation Security Administration, whence I turned down a full body scan and with whom I am no longer “just friends.”
The Biggest Government
In a century, Big Government transformed an essential and minimalized service, the Federal Highway Administration, into the Department of Where the F*** Do You Think You’re Going, and the above fog machine is just the genetics of one department. I noted earlier that the GAO had “found” massive amounts of redundancy; it was a poor word. The GAO simply took the time to report on the disgust. Any rational man could look at the following, which is nothing more than a collection of current federal agencies, and understand the waste is of a scale difficult to comprehend and inspiring of our worst tendencies to rage.