“There is no such thing as a dull day in this office,” said Kathryn Thomson, General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), as she welcomed a group of visiting LCLD Fellows to the department’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. (photo, below).
With more than 55,000 employees and a $70 billion dollar budget, the DOT serves the American people by ensuring “a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life, today and into the future.”
Exactly what that entails became clear as the day-long Learning Experience unfolded in a series of panel discussions with top DOT lawyers, moderated by 2011 LCLD Fellow Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Chief Counsel of the Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.
Panelists described the myriad duties of the Department, outlined how diversity policy is integrated into the federal workplace, and reflected on the contrast between working in private practice and public service.
Bottom line: Whether it’s regulating the nation’s energy pipelines or monitoring threats to the nation’s transportation system on wall-sized electronic maps in the Crisis Management Center, DOT lawyers are working just as hard, if not harder, than lawyers in private practice.
DOT lawyers are also tested by a cascade of unusual legal issues that reflect the challenging times we live in.
These include the interdiction and prosecution of human traffickers, the regulation of GPS and other “smart” technologies on the nation’s highways, the transport of hazardous medical waste from hospitals where Ebola patients are treated, and the legal issues (procurement, liability, immunity, international law) surrounding the removal and transport by U.S. inspectors of chemical weapons from Syria to disposal sites on the high seas.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I joined the Department,” said moderator Vanessa Sutherland, who moved to DOT from the Legal department at Altria, an LCLD Member corporation. “All in all, it’s been absolutely fantastic, serving the American people. We’re living in extraordinary times. And as Kathryn said earlier, every day is an adventure.”