Biden FAA Nominee Withdraws After Criticism Over Lack Of Aviation Safety Experience
Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration after strong Republican criticism that he lacked experience in aviation safety. 

Phil Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport and former CEO of the Los Angeles Metro Transit Authority, was nominated by Biden last July. On Saturday night, Reuters reported his nomination was withdrawn because he did not have enough votes to get out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. A statement from the White House confirmed that Washington withdrew his name. 

“Unfortunately, an onslaught of unfounded Republican attacks on Mr. Washington’s service and experience irresponsibly delayed this process, threatened unnecessary procedural hurdles on the Senate floor, and ultimately have led him to withdraw his nomination today,” Abdullah Hassan, a White House spokesman, told The New York Times on Saturday. 

A vote from the committee was expected to take place last Wednesday but was delayed. Sources told the Associated Press that Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an independent, was holding up the vote. Both Sinema and Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester declined to publicly say how they planned to vote. 

Republicans have strongly objected to Washington’s nomination, citing a lack of aviation background, specifically at a time when the country has experienced numerous air travel headaches and aviation near-misses. He was appointed CEO of Denver International Airport in 2021, but that’s his only aviation-related experience, according to Fox Business. Beyond this criticism, Republicans also pointed to a corruption investigation he’s reportedly connected to in Los Angeles, in which Washington denied any wrongdoing. 

“The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg posted to Twitter. “The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service,” he added. 

During committee hearings in early March, Republicans didn’t hold back in pointing out Washington’s employment history. North Carolina Republican Senator Ted Budd said, “The FAA can’t afford to be led by someone who needs on-the-job training.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued Washington’s “record is woefully lacking,” adding, “in fact, you have zero aviation safety 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,” Sen. Cruz said in a statement Saturday. “Given the significant challenges facing the FAA, this wasn’t the time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training. 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.”

The current acting administrator for the FAA, pilot Billy Nolen, could have the support of at least one Republican senator already. Sen. Cruz believes Nolen could receive bipartisan support should he be nominated, the Associated Press reported. According to the FAA website, Nolen has 33 years of experience in “operations and corporate safety, regulatory affairs and flight operations.” 

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