The Senate Commerce Committee delayed consideration of President Biden’s pick to helm the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday amid criticism of the nominee’s background.
Senate Commerce Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, said the panel would not vote to advance Phil Washington’s nomination as FAA administrator until “more information” comes to lawmakers.
“We will have this debate in the future. Mr. Washington is qualified. He has the support of other former heads of the FAA who also were not pilots,” Ms. Cantwell said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, the committee’s top Republican, said he was pleased by the delay and hoped the White House withdraws the nomination.
“The head of the FAA is a specialized, technical job,” said Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican. “Mr. Washington has never flown a plane, he was never a military pilot … he’s never worked at an airline.”
The delay came as three members of the Commerce Committee’s majority — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Jon Tester of Montana — were undecided on supporting the nomination.
Mr. Washington is not a pilot but has served as CEO of Denver International Airport since 2021. From 2015 to 2020, he led the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is responsible for operating the city’s bus and subway lines.
If confirmed, Mr. Washington would not be the first FAA administrator without a direct aviation background. Presidents Clinton and Obama appointed individuals to the post who had served in the transportation sector but were not licensed pilots.
Still, the lack of direct aviation experience is a concern for Republicans and Democrats alike.
“The FAA has a $24 billion budget, about 45,000 employees and the responsibility to oversee the most complex aviation system in the world,” Ms. Sinema, an independent, said at a recent hearing. “Aviation experience is important for this position, and the federal law listing the requirements for the FAA administrator states the ‘nominee must have experience in a field directly related to aviation.’”
Mr. Washington was nominated by the White House for the FAA post last July. His confirmation stalled amid opposition from Republicans.
Apart from Mr. Washington’s lack of a pilot’s license, the nominee is facing questions about his management.
Mr. Washington was named in two lawsuits alleging general discrimination and whistleblower retaliation during his tenure as CEO of Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Transportation Authority. A recently filed federal lawsuit by an employee of Denver Airport alleges that under Mr. Washington’s leadership the worker was subject to “threats” and “intolerable” working conditions.
Mr. Washington has denied wrongdoing and said the allegations are false.
Despite the denials, Mr. Cruz said the White House should withdraw the nomination. The Texan argued that acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolan should be tapped for the post.
“He has multiple certifications in aviation safety, he’s a pilot. He was the choice of President Biden to be acting administrator,” Mr. Cruz said. “I have every confidence that this committee would move [Mr. Nolan’s] nomination swiftly and that he would be confirmed with a substantial bipartisan vote.”
• Haris Alic can be reached at email@example.com.
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