President Biden’s pick to head the FAA, Phil Washington, has withdrawn his nomination after failing to garner enough support in Congress.
In a March 25 tweet, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed the news, writing, “The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee. The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service.”
Despite being nominated for the position in July, Washington didn’t receive a committee hearing for eight months as several lawmakers raised concerns about his aviation experience and ability to lead the agency. While he faced heavy criticism from Republicans, Washington also lacked support from other key senators, including Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona), who expressed uncertainty ahead of a scheduled vote last Wednesday that was quickly called off.
Washington currently serves as the CEO of Denver International Airport—a position he has held for two years. Prior to that, he held several positions in transportation, mostly focused on bus and rail lines. He also served 24 years in the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of command sergeant major.
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During his confirmation hearing on March 1, Washington failed to convince Republicans of his ability to lead the agency as he was unable to answer basic questions regarding aviation safety, pilot certification, and licensing, repeatedly stating that he is “not a pilot.”
The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee. The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service.
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) March 26, 2023
Meanwhile, the FAA has been without an administrator for more than a year. The agency has faced numerous challenges in the last few months, including a NOTAM shutdown, flight delays, staffing shortages, and several concerning near misses at U.S. airports.
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In fact, the runway incursion incidents led acting Administrator Billy Nolen to call for an FAA Safety Summit—a first of its kind since 2009. As a result of the summit, the industry called for more vigilance, and the FAA issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) that included a list of nine recommended actions.
Lawmakers and industry both agree that a confirmed leader is crucial to ensure the FAA is operating at its full potential. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been at the forefront of criticism for Washington.
“Given the significant challenges facing the FAA, this wasn’t the time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “The Biden administration must now quickly name someone to head the FAA who has an extensive aviation background, can earn widespread bipartisan support in the Senate, and will keep the flying public safe.”
Cruz has repeatedly pushed the idea of Nolen to head the FAA given his extensive aviation background. “A well-qualified nominee such as Nolen would likely receive widespread bipartisan support and earn a quick confirmation in the Senate. Most importantly, the flying public would be safer and better off,” noted Cruz.
According to a White House official, the administration “will move expeditiously to nominate a new candidate.”