Biden's choice for FAA leader withdraws his candidacy

Phillip Washington, who was nominated by President Joe Biden in July to be the next FAA administrator, has withdrawn his candidacy for the post amid Senate opposition.

“Though I am confident in my ability to lead the FAA as a transformative leader, I no longer saw a respectful, civil and viable path forward to Senate confirmation,” Washington said in a statement released Monday morning. “I faced cheap and unfounded partisan attacks and procedural obstruction with regard to my military career that would have further lengthened the already delayed confirmation process. With that said, I decided that for the good of the FAA and the country, I would withdraw my name from consideration.”

Washington, who is the CEO of Denver Airport, submitted his withdrawal letter to the president on Friday, two days after Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who heads the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, postponed a planned committee vote on his nomination. The cancellation was viewed as a clear indication that Washington didn’t have the votes to achieve committee recommendation. Though Democrats largely supported him, Republicans were lined up in opposition. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and John Tester (D-Mont.) were also noncommittal publicly about Washington, according to various media reports.

Opponents’ concerns

Opponents of the Washington nomination had pointed to his relatively short resume in aviation. His difficulties magnified last September when it was revealed that Washington was being investigated as part of a public corruption probe stemming from his time as the head of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. Washington denies the allegations.

Those opposed also questioned whether Washington could legally serve as FAA administrator, a position that requires civilian status, due to the 24 years he served in the army. His army career ended in 2000.

In a statement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the GOP ranking member on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called on the Biden administration to name a nominee with more aviation experience.

“Since Mr. Washington was nominated last July, it’s been clear to Democrat and Republican senators, numerous aviation groups and any impartial observer that Mr. Washington lacked the aviation experience necessary to run the FAA,” Cruz said. Given the significant challenges facing the FAA, this wasn’t the time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training.”

Cantwell offered a much different summation in a March 25 tweet.

“Phil Washington has the qualifications and the experience to lead the FAA,” she said. … “Republicans chose to drum up falsehoods rather than give the flying public and the aviation industry the leadership needed now.”

Washington’s withdrawal comes as the FAA is facing scrutiny related to recent high-profile near-collisions at airports and for a technology outage in February.

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