Phil Washington, Biden’s F.A.A. Nominee, Faces Murky Road to Confirmation

The panel’s chairwoman, Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, said time constraints had pushed the confirmation process into next year. A spokeswoman for Ms. Cantwell, Ansley Lacitis, said the senator was “looking forward to the nomination hearing and asking questions about strengthening F.A.A.’s independence and safety oversight, building its work force capacity and making sure the F.A.A. is the global gold standard for safety.”

A handful of factors have clouded the status of Mr. Washington’s nomination, including questions about the brevity of his career in aviation.

When Mr. Biden announced his selection of Mr. Washington, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the commerce committee, said he was “skeptical because of the nominee’s lack of experience in aviation.” He added, “This position requires extensive knowledge of the industry in order to ensure the safety and efficiency of the agency and American air travel.”

Mr. Washington has also faced scrutiny over his time running the transit system in Los Angeles, with his name surfacing in a messy political spat that has played out in recent months in the nation’s most populous county.

In September, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant at the home of a county supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, as part of what the department described as a public corruption investigation. The inquiry involved a series of no-bid contracts awarded by the transit system, known as Metro, to a nonprofit to operate a sexual harassment hotline.

The warrant said that according to a whistle-blower, Mr. Washington had “pushed forward” a contract with the nonprofit “in order to remain ‘in good graces’” with Ms. Kuehl, who was a member of Metro’s board of directors. The warrant added that the whistle-blower confronted Mr. Washington about a $75,000 bill from the nonprofit and that he instructed her to pay it through a process used for office supplies.

The search was itself contentious. The sheriff, Alex Villanueva, had a history of clashing with other officials and had been accused of using investigations to target his adversaries, though he claimed to have recused himself in the inquiry into the nonprofit contracts. The nonprofit’s executive director, Patricia Giggans, whose home was also searched, is a friend of Ms. Kuehl’s and was appointed by her to the civilian oversight commission for the sheriff’s department. Both Ms. Kuehl and Ms. Giggans had previously called for Sheriff Villanueva’s resignation.


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