More than a dozen congressional Republicans are demanding President Biden withdraw his nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration over a lack of “aviation experience.”
The 14 lawmakers penned a letter to Mr. Biden arguing the nominee, Phil Washington, was woefully unprepared to helm the agency. The lawmakers, each of whom has a pilot’s license, noted that federal law requires the FAA chief to have some “experience in a field directly related to aviation.”
“The FAA cannot afford to be led by someone who needs on-the-job training, especially at a time when our aviation system is facing tremendous safety challenges such as multiple near-misses by airlines and the first nationwide ground stop of aircraft since 9/11,” they wrote in the letter Thursday.
Mr. Washington is not a pilot but has served as the CEO of the Denver International Airport since 2021. Between 2015 and 2020 he led the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority which is responsible for operating the city’s bus and subway lines.
“His aviation experience is limited to working at the Denver airport for less than two years,” the lawmakers wrote. “In that role, Mr. Washington is primarily responsible for non-aviation matters, such as the airport’s shops, restaurants, parking, and buildings.”
If confirmed, Mr. Washington would not be the first FAA administrator without a direct aviation background. Presidents Clinton and Obama appointed individuals to the post who had served in the transportation sector but were not licensed pilots.
Mr. Clinton, for example, appointed Jane Garvey as FAA administrator in 1997. Mrs. Garvey, a former director of Boston’s Logan Airport, was largely known for overseeing the “Big Dig” highway project in Massachusetts.
Regardless of the history, the GOP lawmakers said the current FAA administrator should have an aviation background given the problems facing the agency. In recent months, the FAA has come under fire after a series of near-miss collisions.
Mr. Washington was nominated by the White House for the FAA post in July 2022. His nomination stalled amid opposition from Republicans in the Senate, which at the time was split 50-50 between the parties. Democrats now have a 51-seat majority, though several senators are out due to illness.
The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on the nomination.
Apart from Mr. Washington’s lack of a pilot’s license, the nominee is facing questions about his management abilities.
Mr. Washington was previously named in two other lawsuits alleging general discrimination and whistleblower retaliation during his tenure as CEO of Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
His name also appeared in a criminal search warrant issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in September 2022 probing charges of favoritism at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
A recently filed federal lawsuit by an employee of the Denver Airport alleges that under Mr. Washington’s leadership, he was subject to “threats” and “intolerable” working conditions.
The lawsuit was brought forward by an employee of Hispanic descent who says his job was threatened after complaining about pay discrimination and racist comments by a supervisor.
Mr. Washington has denied wrongdoing and said the allegations being leveled are false.
• Haris Alic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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