In case you missed it, the DOT’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its DOT Top Management Challenges Report for FY2024 in early November. This annual review, required by law, looks at all the modal agencies at DOT to determine improvements that can be made in each. This year, it identified ten management challenges. The list runs the gamut of familiar concerns like transportation safety, grant fund stewardship, and information security. One concern listed is “Transportation Transformation.”

As the transportation industry dreams big about new solutions to old problems, this transportation transformation management challenge seems timely. After all, self-driving vehicles have never been closer to reality. Artificial intelligence is pervasive. Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems are slowly becoming standard technology on new trucks and buses. So yes, DOT, we must focus on “transformation.”

The plan to focus on Transportation Transformation was initially hatched in 2022 when DOT established six guiding principles for its work in transportation innovation. One of these principles stands out to STC: “overcoming risk-aversion to allow for experimentation and learn from setbacks.” Two years later, this risk-aversion is still paralyzing DOT and slowing innovation.

Risk aversion is natural. It’s tough to be the first to try anything. The risk of failure is great. Historically, the government has taken on some of this risk and even led in the development of key technologies we all rely on today – think the internet and global positioning systems. Today’s DOT, in today’s political climate, moves slowly and deliberately, avoiding taking needless (and sometimes needed) risks. This stymies innovation.

Sadly, while OIG points this out as a guiding principle for DOT, it does little to recommend ways to execute the strategy. (A Google search on the topic found nothing of relevance from DOT.) Regardless, DOT’s response to innovation needs to be swift and focused on empowering this transformation.

DOT should give the industry the latitude to innovate. Certainly, this comes with risks of its own. But as the earlier pioneering wheels of government have largely ground to a halt (when’s the last time the government built an internet or GPS-esque technology), the industry should have the ability to lead without burdensome regulatory interference.