For the third time since 2011, the person holding the critical position of Assistant Administrator for NextGen has changed hands. Each time, neither the departure of the incumbent nor the arrival was noted by an FAA press release. This most recent silent transition may have first surfaced, March 25th, in a law firm’s announcement of a list of speakers at a symposium.
Three changes in an important position in a five year period —what does that mean? The strange absence of any formal statement by the DoT Secretary, the FAA Administrator or the Deputy Administrator creates the sort of vacuum which nature abhors. The chair of the Assistant Administrator seems unable to hold the three talented people who have occupied it
“NextGen is a series of inter-linked programs, systems, and policies that implement advanced technologies and capabilities to dramatically change the way the current aviation system is operated. NextGen is satellite-based and relies on a network to share information and digital communications so all users of the system are aware of other users’ precise locations. It will make U.S. aviation safer, reduce delays, and mitigate impacts on the environment.”
This is a sufficiently important FAA program that Congress, in passing the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (§204), created a position DESIGNATED the Chief NextGen Officer. The first occupant of that position is Michael G. Whitaker, who spent 20 years in the aviation industry, first with TWA in New York and Washington, where he served as Assistant General Counsel, then for 15 years with United Airlines, where he rose to Senior Vice President responsible for Alliances, International and Regulatory Affairs. He has had the dual titles of Deputy Administrator and CNO since 2013.
The position of Assistant Administrator for NextGen, ANG, was originally occupied by Victoria Cox, an 8 year FAA employee in technical positions including FAA Senior Vice President For NextGen & Operations Planning, which was a natural transition to the ANG job. After a year in that job, she left – unannounced. She is now Senior Technical Advisor for Veracity Engineering.
Without fanfare, her successor, Retired Air Force Major General Edward L. Bolton Jr. assumed the ANG office after a five month hiatus. He brought tremendous experience and expertise in both financial controls and operational/technical. He was a very visible spokesperson for NextGen and seemed well suited for the demanding position.
The attention of his departure received the equal level of his quiet entry; it was not noted by the FAA. His next firm, Aerospace Corporation did issue an announcement greeting the soon-to-be Senior Vice President of Systems Planning, Engineering, and Quality, succeeding his predecessor upon his retirement on July 1. His new employer is California nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center and has approximately 3,600 employees. It provides guidance and advice to military, civil and commercial customers to ensure the success of complex, technology-based programs.
The third person to be ANG-1 is Jim Eck, who previously the Vice President of the Program Management Organization responsible for all NextGen program activity, infrastructure modernization programs, and service to legacy NAS infrastructure. A colleague commented that Jim is a solid, very capable guy. Since 1996, Jim has worked acquisition programs. In addition to program development and execution, he has been active in leading acquisition management policy and workforce development. Prior to joining the FAA, Jim spent 18 years working for the U.S. Navy.
Three very capable leaders of NextGen arrive and depart with no notice. Such muted transitions might contribute to speculation about the why’s and how’s. Ms. Cox and General Bolton have moved to exceptional jobs and Mr. Eck is coming from a position qualifying him for the ANG tasks. Their competence should not be in question.
Instead of trying to fill in the glaring blanks, it may be more appropriate to hypothesize an immediate track of success for NextGen under Mr. Eck’s tutelage.
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