August 01, 2017

Top Transportation and Appropriations Democrats Send Letter to Inspector General of The U.S. Department of Transportation Requesting an Investigation Into Improper DOT Lobbying

The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel III

Inspector General

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20590


Dear Inspector General Scovel:

            We write to request an investigation of officials of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to determine whether they have engaged in conduct that violates the Anti-Lobbying Act or other Federal law.

As you know, the Anti-Lobbying Act states:

No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or any official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation . . . .[1]

The Department of Justice has interpreted this prohibition on lobbying Members of Congress to bar “substantial ‘grass roots’ lobbying campaigns . . . designed to encourage members of the public to pressure Members of Congress to support Administration or Department legislative or appropriations proposals.”[2]

It has come to our attention that at least four DOT political appointees have contacted Members of Congress, nonfederal stakeholders such as aviation association representatives and airport sponsors, or both to gain support for H.R. 2997, the “21st Century AIRR Act”, which includes a controversial plan to privatize our Nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system. We understand that these DOT political appointees have sent e-mails and written materials or conducted phone calls with these nonfederal stakeholders to encourage ATC privatization.

For instance, political appointees have sent e-mails to nonfederal stakeholders that state,

. . . with each of its major concerns addressed in the AIRR Act, the general aviation community has no substantive basis to oppose freeing America’s air traffic control system from an unwieldy agency and unpredictable funding.[3]

In addition, DOT has distributed written materials and developed a website ( and official social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter with the unambiguous intent of encouraging members of the public to support ATC privatization legislation. Even when viewed in the light most favorable, these e-mails, phone calls, and other activities are highly irregular, at best.

We therefore request that you conduct an investigation of these activities by Administration political appointees and that you report on whether the activities, either individually or in totality, violate applicable Federal law, including the Anti-Lobbying Act.

If you have any questions, please contact the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Democratic staff at (202) 225-9161.




PETER DeFAZIO                                                     NITA M. LOWEY

Ranking Member                                                    Ranking Member

Committee on Transportation                                 Committee on Appropriations

and Infrastructure                                                       



Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Transportation,

Housing and Urban Development

Committee on Appropriations




cc:        The Honorable Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Transportation

             The Honorable Michael P. Huerta, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration


[1] 18 U.S.C. § 1913 (emphasis added).

[2] Department of Justice, Constraints Imposed by 18 U.S.C. § 1913 on Lobbying Efforts (Sept. 28, 1989), available at

[3] See Appendix 1 (emphasis added). In addition, the General Aviation Fact Sheet states, “The AAIR Act [sic] carefully considered and addressed the concerns of the General Aviation Community . . . .