Sen. Cruz: Phil Washington Doesn’t Qualify Because He Has Woefully Inadequate Aviation Safety Experience

March 1, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  In his opening statement at today’s full committee to consider President Biden’s nominee for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator, Phil Washington, Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) detailed his concerns over Washington’s thin aviation safety record, legal entanglements, and ineligibility to serve as FAA administrator without a congressional waiver.

Ranking Member Cruz’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

The FAA faces enormous challenges. It must modernize its airspace while safely integrating new entrants, like drones. It’s trying to keep its reputation as the gold standard for aviation safety while dealing with far too many “close calls” and operating an outdated air traffic control system that must safely move roughly two million passengers every day.

To meet its mission, the FAA needs a permanent leader with decades of experience in aviation to make sure the flying public is safe — the agency’s primary obligation. This obligation is so important Congress mandated the FAA administrator must “have experience in a field directly related to aviation.”

The nominee before us, Phil Washington, doesn’t qualify because he has woefully inadequate aviation experience.

I’m disappointed this administration has decided to treat a critical safety position as a patronage job. As a result of the Biden White House playing politics with the flying public’s safety, the FAA has lacked Senate-confirmed leadership for a year.

I expect we’ll hear some Democrats gloss over Mr. Washington’s lack of aviation and aviation safety experience by saying he has a record of strong management at transit agencies – proof he has what it takes to lead the FAA.

But his record demonstrates the opposite. The Democrat city transit agencies he’s run have been beset by mismanagement and wasteful spending. In 2019, CBS News reported Mr. Washington tried to add a $200,000 sauna to the LA Metro’s employee gym after being presented with a more taxpayer-friendly $50,000 version. He proposed this lavish spending as city buses “broke down and caught fire due to lack of money.”

The New York Times reported that a Denver rail project overseen by Mr. Washington ran up a two billion dollar-plus deficit and had become over 30 years behind schedule!

Just last month, Mr. Washington and other Denver officials spent more than $100,000 on a junket to Africa to drum up service to Denver’s airport. Government waste and delayed, over-budget projects are things we want to change at the FAA, not continue.

I’m afraid Mr. Washington’s record also suggests that he’d focus on virtue-signaling at a time when the FAA must be laser-focused on aviation safety and modernization. As LA Metro CEO, he said “everything we do in terms of mobility, we look through the lens of equity.”

At the Denver airport, he’s spending millions of dollars to build a special “Hall of Equity” and changed the contract bidding process to place a heavier emphasis on equity and so-called “sociocultural merits.” Safety — not political posturing — needs to be paramount at the FAA above all else.

I also have serious concerns regarding outstanding allegations of misconduct going back to Mr. Washington’s time at LA Metro. He was named in multiple search warrants in an ongoing criminal public corruption investigation and was the subject of multiple whistleblower complaints.

One whistleblower who exposed details of a politically-connected contracting scheme claims to have been retaliated against by Mr. Washington. After Mr. Washington went to Denver, LA Metro settled the claims for more than half-a-million dollars.

And just last month, Mr. Washington was named in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by a former Denver airport employee. Mr. Washington failed to notify this Committee of the lawsuit—one of dozens of omissions in his questionnaire—suggesting he has not been fully transparent and raising concerns about how he’ll collaborate with us as we work to reauthorize the FAA.

Finally, Mr. Washington, as a retired member of the military, needs a waiver from the House and Senate to be eligible to serve, since federal law requires that the FAA administrator be a “civilian.”

On five occasions, Congress passed legislative waivers so retired military personnel could serve. We would do the same for Mr. Washington if his record merited it.

But it doesn’t given his virtually nonexistent aviation experience, poor management record, and legal controversies. If Senate Democrats force this nomination through without a waiver, a legal cloud will hang over every single FAA action.

Let me close with a quote.

“I have said that it is very important that in this day and age, when it comes to aviation, safety must always be our top priority. We've considered [the1] nomination, [the nominee’s]2 record, an ongoing case of a whistleblower retaliation. And given all of that, it is clear to me he is not the right person for the safety culture that we need today at the FAA.”

Those were words spoken about a former FAA nominee but perfectly describe the case against Mr. Washington. And they were said, by Chairwoman Cantwell, in 2019 about someone—Steve Dickson—with almost 40 years of aviation experience.

Mr. Washington is not the right nominee to lead the FAA. President Biden should nominate someone with serious aviation safety experience, which is what the flying public deserves.