Since 1916, with the passage of the Federal Aid Road Act, these acts have provided a multi-year foundation for the Federal-aid Highway Program.
Surface transportation acts can vary in scope and duration. In most cases, these acts are multi-year bills and their scope or coverage has expanded well beyond the core Federal-aid Highway Program. MAP-21, enacted in 2012, is the most recent authorization act for the Federal-aid Highway Program. The bill broke the tradition of a multi-year reauthorization. It is a two-year, $105 billion law that provides funding for the program at FY 2012 levels adjusted for inflation, or about $41 billion for each year of the bill.
The following is a roadmap for enactment of a surface transportation authorization act.
The administration (executive branch) normally proposes legislation to reauthorize highway and other surface transportation programs. This is not required by law, but has been a tradition, although the Obama administration has not proposed an authorization bill.
The Department of Transportation will prepare the proposed legislation working with affected agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. Since the transportation sector plays an important role in climate change and energy-related issues, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency will also be involved in development of the next administration bill. To ensure consistency with the administration’s priorities, the Office of Management and Budget reviews and approves the legislation prior to the administration sending the bill to Congress.
The comprehensive administration bill is prepared by the Department of Transportation and normally is introduced in Congress at the request of the administration the year in which the prior authorization is set to expire. Congress considers the administration’s bill as it formulates its own legislation, and may incorporate provisions of the administration’s bill in its own comprehensive legislation.
Responsibility for developing surface transportation legislation rests with specific authorizing committees, and their appropriate subcommittees in Congress. For the Federal-aid Highway Program, the principle jurisdiction rests with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The HTF and other revenue matters rest with the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. However, many other committees in the House and Senate are involved in the drafting of surface transportation legislation.
Congress begins the authorization process by conducting hearings as a springboard for developing legislation. Normally, the hearings begin shortly after the administration’s bill is introduced; however, in the absence of an administration bill, committees hold hearings on their own. These hearings provide an opportunity for Congress to hear from interested organizations, experts and the executive branch on the future direction of federal surface transportation programs.
Once committee hearings are complete, subcommittees begin preparing draft legislation on surface transportation programs and issues within their jurisdictions. Subcommittees will “mark up” (amend) the draft bills and present an agreed-upon draft to the full committee. The full committee will mark up the subcommittee drafts and present an amended version to the full chamber of the respective body of Congress for consideration.
The House and Senate will debate, amend and vote on their versions of surface transportation legislation. When both bodies have acted, a conference committee is formed to reconcile differences and arrive at a consensus or compromise bill.
Upon agreement by the conference committee, a single bill is returned to each body of Congress for a vote. The bill must be voted on and approved in its entirety. When the conference bill has passed both the House and Senate, it is sent to the president for signature.