Last week’s outage of the FAA notam system is serving as a driver to press forward on the FAA administrator’s position. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) released a statement on Sunday saying, “It’s time to clear the runway for President Biden’s choice for FAA Administrator, Phil Washington.”
Schumer had pointed to the notam technical issues, along with the recent airline woes, in stressing the FAA needs a confirmed leader and added, “I intend to break this logjam.”
The White House originally had nominated Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport, to the top FAA post in July. But since the Senate never moved on it, the Biden Administration renewed the nomination as the 118th Congress convened this month. Washington had just a year at the Denver position when originally nominated. His background has been in large transportation organizations, including as CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and of the Denver Regional Transportation District. He also spent 24 years in the U.S. Army and brings ties to the Biden Administration, leading the transition team for the Department of Transportation after the 2020 election.
Senate Republicans have been critical of Washington’s lack of aviation experience. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), the outgoing Ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee, called for a new nominee. “[The] FAA action to halt all U.S. flights underscores this agency's first mission is safety. But Phil Washington, President Biden's pick to lead FAA, has no safety or aviation experience,” he said on Twitter. “We can't leave the flying public's wellbeing up to chance.”
Meanwhile, the incoming ranking member of the committee, Ted Cruz (R-Texas), also pointed to the notam outage and said, “This incident also highlights why the public needs a competent, proven leader with substantive aviation experience leading the FAA.”
In addition to concerns surrounding the depth of his aviation background, Washington’s nomination was reportedly bogged down over a corruption probe stemming from his time with the LA Transportation Authority. The probe surrounded a contract for a sexual harassment counseling hotline. Further, a whistleblower had filed a complaint on the handling of the hotline.
Washington has denied any wrongdoing.