Longtime issuer pulls out of Senate consideration to head FAA

Denver International Airport CEO Phillip Washington has withdrawn from consideration as President Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Committee amid Republican opposition.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed Washington’s withdrawal in a tweet Saturday night.

“The FAA needs a confirmed administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee,” Buttigieg said. “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 comes as the FAA has been without a leader since last year and the country’s airports are seeing safety issues, like runway near-misses.  

The Commerce Committee had scheduled a hearing on Washington’s nomination last week, but Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell, who supported Washington, delayed the hearing, saying that members were seeking “pending information.”

Republicans argued that Washington was unqualified for the job and noted his links to a corruption investigation in Los Angeles Metro.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Sam Graves, R-Mo., said in a recent letter that Washington required a waiver from a provision that the FAA administrator be a civilian – Washington is an Army veteran – and that the House would not provide the waiver.

Biden tapped Washington, a longtime issuer, for the FAA post in July.

Sen. Ted Cruz, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce who led the opposition, said in a statement Saturday that “Mr. Washington lacked the aviation experience necessary to run the FAA,” and that “The Biden administration must now quickly name someone to head the FAA who has extensive aviation background, can earn widespread bipartisan support in the Senate, and will keep the flying public safe.”

Congress will take up the FAA reauthorization bill this year. The position carries a five-year term.

A Chicago native who spent 24 years in the U.S. Army, Washington has been CEO of the Denver International Airport since 2021. Before that he was CEO at Denver’s Regional Transportation District, where, among other things, he implemented the nation’s first transit public-private partnership called the Eagle P3 Project. Washington led the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 2015 to 2021, where he oversaw an expansion of the system, including new rail connections to Los Angeles International Airport.

Washington last year founded the Equity in Infrastructure Project, which asks public agencies to sign a pledge to significantly increase the number of prominent contracts given to historically underserved businesses.