Sep 20, 2022 - News

Denver airport CEO Phil Washington's FAA nomination may be stalled

Phil Washington speaks during a ceremony to unveil a new concourse at Denver International Airport in May. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A search warrant that is part of a criminal probe involving the Los Angeles Metro transit agency and names Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington could potentially prolong his confirmation process to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.

What's happening: Aviation leaders are raising concerns over a Los Angeles County search warrant executed last week involving allegations that Washington oversaw a no-bid contract at his past job leading the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

  • The heightened scrutiny is expected to stall Washington's confirmation process — potentially into next year — at a time when the federal agency has been leaderless since March, Politico reports.
  • "I think the Republicans will keep trying to stall stuff out and I don’t think the Democrats will be all that anxious to use a lot of political capital to push it through," an airport lobbyist said.

Zoom in: The latest news about Washington is spurring some local pundits to re-examine his credibility.

What they're saying: The search warrant is "troubling" — but "this is not new territory when it comes to Phil Washington," former Democratic state lawmaker Penfield Tate said Friday on PBS12's "Colorado Inside Out."

  • When Washington led metro Denver's Regional Transportation District, one of his direct reports was convicted in 2015 for exchanging contracts for cash and sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, Tate recalled.

The other side: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who appointed Washington as airport CEO last year, continues to have "complete confidence" in his leadership, spokesperson Jennifer Castor told Axios Denver.

  • Washington "has been a phenomenal CEO for the airport, and has led … with integrity and exceptional, strategic vision," she added.
  • Washington has denied all allegations, Bloomberg reports. DIA referred Axios Denver's questions to the White House.

Between the lines: The investigation comes in the wake of a political spat between Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and several elected officials in the county.

What to watch: Considering the Denver airport's CEO is a mayoral appointee, Washington's seat could become a political talking point as the 2023 mayoral race heats up in the coming months.

  • Should his FAA confirmation fail, Denver council member Kevin Flynn tells Axios that Washington should remain CEO of Denver International Airport "because there are only 10 months" until a new mayor is elected, "and there's simply no need to make another short-term change at this point."

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