The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday narrowly approved along party lines the nomination of Stephen Dickson as the next FAA administrator. The 14-12 vote clears the nomination for full Senate consideration. However, the fate of the nomination remains unclear given opposition from the Democratic ranks.
Nominated this spring, Dickson is a former senior v-p of flight operations at Delta Air Lines who would bring some four decades of airline and U.S. Air Force experience to the helm of the FAA. While the nomination was widely welcomed, it has since come under intense scrutiny following the revelation of a legal complaint filed by a whistleblower alleging that Delta retaliated against her for bringing forward safety complaints. The events detailed in the legal action occurred while Dickson was in a leadership role at the airline. However, he did not reveal this to the committee, saying he was not a named party to the complaint.
“The committee has since conducted an extensive review, including multiple follow-up conversations and meetings with Mr. Dickson,” Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), said. “We have studied hundreds of pages of legal documents. It is clear that Mr. Dickson was not a named party in any of these matters and was not personally alleged to have retaliated against any of his fellow employees who raised safety concerns.”
Wicker further called Dickson an “an excellent nominee” and said, “I think he will bring the commitment, experience, and expertise necessary to lead the FAA and fulfill its mission.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the ranking member on the Commerce Committee, however, said she could not support the nomination, believing more needs to be researched given the concerns raised by the whistleblower. She called the retaliation against the whistleblower absurd and said, “He has made it clear the handling of the situation is just fine.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) also spoke out against the nomination, saying in addition to the whistleblower case, the agency right now has a “clear need for independence.” The FAA has relied too much on the airlines, Blumenthal said, adding, Dickson’s career at Delta is “far from a qualification….He is simply the wrong person for the FAA.”