Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for confirming President Joe Biden’s nominee Phil Washington as the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), even as Washington remains under scrutiny for a corruption-related warrant.
“It’s time to clear the runway for President Biden’s choice for FAA Administrator, Phil Washington,” Schumer said in a press conference on Jan. 15. “With recent events, including airline troubles and last week’s tech problem, this agency needs a leader confirmed by the Senate immediately.
“I intend to break this logjam, work to hold a hearing for Mr. Washington where he can detail his experience and answer questions, and then work toward a speedy Senate confirmation.”
Since March 2022, the FAA has been without a permanent leader after Steve Dickson, a Trump appointee, stepped down from his post in the middle of his five-year term. In July 2022, the president nominated Washington to head the agency. However, he has yet to have a confirmation hearing in Congress.
As his nomination wasn’t acted upon during the last Congress, Biden had a choice to either identify a new nominee as the head or resubmit Washington for the post. In January, the Biden administration renominated Washington.
If confirmed, Washington would become the first permanent black administrator of the FAA. He’s currently the CEO of Denver International Airport, which is the third-busiest airport in the world.
Previously, Washington has headed municipal transit organizations, including in Los Angeles and Denver, which were focused on rail lines and buses.
In September 2022, a search warrant related to a corruption investigation was carried out against Washington.
The warrant, issued in 2021, aimed to identify potential favoritism that played into the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s decision to award contracts. Washington headed the organization for six years.
According to allegations leveled against Washington, he’s accused of pushing a sole-sourcing contract to a nonprofit run by a county supervisor. A sole-source contract is entered with a supplier without a competitive process, based on the justification that only one known source exists or that only a single supplier can fulfill the requirements of the contract.
Washington is accused of having ordered a bill worth $75,000 to be paid to the nonprofit via a purchase order that’s usually used for office supplies. He has denied the allegations.
Schumer’s push to confirm Washington as FAA head comes as the agency is under criticism after its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system recently failed, causing thousands of flight delays and cancellations. This was the first nationwide ground stop of U.S. flights since the 9/11 attacks.
The FAA system failure, as well as Washington’s inexperience in the aviation industry, are being highlighted by Republicans.
“Today’s 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 @FAANews, has no safety or aviation experience. We can’t leave the flying public’s well-being up to chance. We need a new nominee,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in a Jan. 11 tweet.
Wicker led Republicans on the Commerce Committee in the last Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who’s expected to replace Wicker as the top Republican on the committee, also denounced the FAA’s “inability” to keep up an important safety system.
“This incident also highlights why the public needs a competent, proven leader with substantive aviation experience leading the FAA,” Cruz said in a Jan. 11 statement.
Washington also faces opposition from other Democrats. When his name was nominated in July 2022, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a statement that she wants “strong leadership” from the next FAA administrator.
“I look forward to careful consideration of Mr. Washington’s nomination during the confirmation process,” she said at the time.
Cantwell is the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).