Jan 19, 2023 - News

Phil Washington faces uncertain path to FAA confirmation

Phil Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport. Photo: Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The path for Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington to lead the Federal Aviation Administration isn't getting less turbulent.

Why it matters: Washington awaits his confirmation hearing more than six months after President Biden put forward his nomination. Meanwhile, the FAA — which faces a series of challenges — has been without a permanent leader since March 2022.

Driving the news: The Biden administration earlier this month resubmitted Washington's nomination to the Senate after it expired at the end of the previous Congress. It did so despite lacking clear endorsements from most Democrats, except Colorado U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper.

  • Biden's move brought a fresh wave of attacks from Republicans, who are scrutinizing Washington's thin aviation experience and ties to a criminal search related to his time as CEO of Los Angeles' Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

State of play: Following the FAA's mass outage last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday said he will push to confirm Washington.

  • "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 towards a speedy Senate confirmation," Schumer said in a statement.
  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who chairs the committee that oversees the FAA, has focused on how she will thoroughly vet Washington's candidacy, instead of offering full-throated support for his nomination.

The other side: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the top Republican on the Senate Commerce committee last year, used the system outage that temporarily grounded domestic flight departures to criticize Washington's brief aviation resume.

  • "We need a new nominee," Wicker tweeted. "We can’t leave the flying public's wellbeing up to chance."

What to watch: With the FAA's laundry list of challenges in the spotlight, former FAA chief counsel and acting deputy administrator Arjun Garg told Politico the White House will "put an extra emphasis on the point … that [Washington] has strong executive management capabilities."

  • "[H]e'll really need to bring those to bear to correct the kinds of issues that we’re seeing right now," Garg added.

What's next: Cantwell's office has called the FAA confirmation hearing a top priority, but has yet to say when one will be held.


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