A breakdown in the federal aviation system earlier this month threw a spotlight on the absence of a Senate-confirmed leader of the Federal Aviation Administration, prompting Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to push for the chamber to confirm President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the agency.
But key Senate Republicans have raised concerns about that nominee, Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington, that could complicate the confirmation process of a position that is normally noncontroversial.
Few outside the aviation industry and transportation policymakers typically notice when the FAA is without a Senate-confirmed leader.
But the difficulties the agency faced this month brought a renewed focus to the nomination, which had been troubled by Republican opposition.
A ground stop, caused by a bug in an FAA alert system, which halted all U.S. flights for a few hours earlier this month, sparked public statements by Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper, Washington’s chief advocate in the Senate, to push for the Senate to vote on his confirmation.
“With recent events, including airline troubles and last week’s tech problem, this agency needs a leader confirmed by the Senate immediately,” Schumer said in a Jan. 15 press conference.
“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 added that fixing the problems at the agency begins and ends with filling the FAA administrator role.
“Air travel in America shouldn’t grind to a halt because of an outdated computer system,” Hickenlooper said in a statement.
“The FAA needs a permanent Senate-confirmed administrator who knows how to get things done. Phil Washington, who served for 24 years as a U.S. Army command sergeant major, is that person and the Senate should confirm him.”
Administrators outlast presidents
Unlike some other executive branch agencies, the FAA administrator typically does not resign when the president’s term ends. Read more