Phillip A. Washington, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration, has withdrawn as a candidate for the post after strong criticism from Senate Republicans who said he lacked experience for the job.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed the withdrawal of Washington, a veteran transportation agency executive who also served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, from consideration.
Since July 2021, Washington has been head of Denver international Airport, the world's third-busiest.
“The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee," Buttigieg said in a Twitter post on March 25. "The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service."
Washington's nomination was sent to the Senate in July 2022. But the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee did not hold a confirmation hearing until March 1.
The committee had scheduled a vote on Washington’s nomination on March 22, but at the outset of that session, Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said the vote had been postponed to “a future date, pending information that members have been seeking.”
In a statement after Washington's withdrawal, Cantwell said that Washington "has the qualifications and experience to lead the FAA."
She added, "The FAA requires strong and independent leadership from someone who will focus on safety. Republicans chose to drum up falsehoods rather than give the flying public and the aviation industry the leadership needed now."
Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), the committee’s top Republican, has strongly criticized Washington, contending that the nominee lacks experience for the FAA position.
At the panel's meeting, Cruz said Washington has not flown a plane, or worked for an airline, aircraft manufacturer or the agency.
Cantwell said that several other FAA administrators, such as Jane Garvey—former director of Boston's Logan International Airport—also lacked those credentials and had done well in the post.
Washington was also CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) from 2005 to 2021. He joined Metro after about a decade as CEO of the Denver Regional Transportation District.
For Washington's work at the Denver agency, ENR named him one of its 25 Newsmakers in 2014.
Airport officials had strongly backed Washington’s candidacy.
Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of the Airports Council International-North America said in a statement in July: “As CEO of Denver International Airport, Phil has had to work as a real innovator and problem-solver during one of the most difficult times our industry has faced, and his knowledge and experience are exactly what we need in an FAA Administrator."
After news of Washington's withdrawal broke, Cruz said in a statement, "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.”
Cruz has suggested that the administration nominate Billy Nolen, acting agency administrator and a former American Airlines pilot and manager of flight safety. Before his current FAA position, Nolen was associate administrator for aviation safety.
Story updated on 3/27/2023 with statement from Senate commerce committee Chair Maria Cantwell and information on Washington's military service.
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