FAA Vacancies & the Next Administrator
Chris Brown Reassumes Assistant Administrator of Government & Industry Affairs
Being the FAA Administrator is a difficult job (s)he
• must be able to manage a 40,000 person organization located around the globe;
• must lead an Air Traffic Organization, business which operates 24/7/365 from the Atlantic to the Pacific;
• execute the largest, most complex civil aviation project—NEXTGEN;
• deal with a constant flow of new safety challenges, like the invasion of the drones to certificating ever more complex, innovative aircraft designs;
• address the concerns of airport neighbors about the noise of new AT implementation;
• communicate with Congress about the work of his organization;
• fund airport development and expansion;
• cope with the threat of foreign CAAs which seek to displace the FAA as the leading CAA;
The above chart (tan) shows eight executives, all directly reports to the Administrator, all with major roles in the FAA mission and seven of them political appointees. Their absence limits Administrator Heurta’s ability to accomplish all that is demanded of him.
So, the DISCLOSURE (there is no announcement at FAA.gov) by Politico that Chris Brown will reassume the position of Assistant Administrator of Government and Industry Affairs. He has great background— Transportation & Infrastructure Action Team, Office of Presidential Transition, the Staff Director for the House Transportation & Infrastructure; Vice President Legislative and Regulatory, A4A; Senior Advisor for Government Affairs at United Airlines and before that more positions on the Hill.
Knows the job already, great experience, knows all of the key player—great selection. Right?
YES AND NO
Clearly, having someone who knows the Hill and has worked at the same job at the FAA is a big addition. Mr. Brown is a Republican with incredible ties to the Administration and the Hill.
Mr. Brown’s assets may also be his liabilities from an FAA organizational perspective. He has obviously stronger ties with the Hill and the Trump White House. The Administrator, for whom he works, was appointed by President Obama. The differences in those relationships will strain communications; the subordinate may be privy to significant political information which the Administrator may not know. This is an institutional, not personal, potential problem.
Secondarily, Administrator Huerta’s term expires at the end of this year. His replacement will arrive with Mr. Brown as an incumbent and the new FAA chief did not select a key member of his/her team. That has happened before, but what is unusual is that Mr. Brown’s relationship with the political staff at the DoT will be tested and strong. Not the best case.
The Congressional intention when it enacted a five year term was excellent. Creating a statutory longevity for the position is laudable for the institution is well served by having a consistent leader. Possibly, the legislators did not consider the difficulties incurred in a situation like this. A five year period is longer than the President’s four year term; so, the transitional issues must have been apparent. It is quite possible that the drafters were not concerned about the detail of the difficulties to be incurred when the term carries over to a new President of a different party.
The Secretary and her team face a Catch 22 situation. These jobs need to be filled, but creating incumbents before the Administrator’s replacement puts the FAA’s next leader in a future, difficult situation.
If/when a person is nominated for Deputy Administrator, the issue will be even more pronounced.