The Federal Aviation Administration has as its mission the highly technical world of aviation safety, from licensing airmen to certificating aircraft to operating the air traffic control system. However, the leader of this organization, the Administrator, is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, i.e. “political.” The statute, 49 USC § 106, adds the following “qualifications”:
“…President shall consider the fitness of the individual to carry out efficiently the duties and powers of the office…
(c) The Administrator must—
(1) be a citizen of the United States;
(2) be a civilian; and
(3) have experience in a field directly related to aviation.”
An actual job task analysis might incorporate some additional skills. Since 1961 there have been 18 Administrators, as listed below:
- Najeeb Halaby (Mar 3, 1961 – Jul 1, 1965)
- William F. McKee (Jul 1, 1965 – Jul 31, 1968)
- John H. Shaffer (Mar 24, 1969 – Mar 14, 1973)
- Alexander Butterfield (Mar 14, 1973 – Mar 31, 1975)
- John L. McLucas (Nov 24, 1975 – Apr 1, 1977)
- Langhorne Bond (May 4, 1977 – Jan 20, 1981)
- Lynn Helms (Apr 22, 1981 – Jan 31, 1984)
- Donald D. Engen (Apr 10, 1984 – Jul 2, 1987)
- Allan McArtor (Jul 22, 1987 – Feb 17, 1989)
- James B. Busey IV (Jun 30, 1989 – Dec 4, 1991)
- Thomas C. Richards (Jun 27, 1992 – Jan 20, 1993)
- David R. Hinson (Aug 10, 1993 – Nov 9, 1996)
- Jane Garvey (Aug 4, 1997 – Aug 2, 2002)
- Marion Blakey (Sept 12, 2002 – Sept 13, 2007)
- Robert A. Sturgell (Sept 14, 2007 – Jan 15, 2009)
- Randy Babbitt (Jun 1, 2009 – Dec 6, 2011)
- Michael Huerta (Dec 7, 2011 – Present)
(there have been a number of acting Administrators, including Lynne Osmus and Joseph DelBalzo, who served well while the next political Administrator was confirmed)
Each woman and man, who has occupied the seat in the office at FAA Headquarters, has come from different backgrounds and has made unique contributions. The history of Administrator #5, Alexander Butterfield, has had some mystery to it, primarily due to his sudden exit.
Mr. Butterfield came to the FAA from the Nixon White House, where he was a Presidential Assistant and brought with him his experience as an Air Force colonel. He departed at the request of President Ford. There was no stated reason for the resignation; the Administrator served, then,[i] solely at the pleasure of the President. But it was pretty evident that Mr. Butterfield’s testimony about the installation of a system of microphones in the Oval Office, the tapes from which became a centerpiece in the Watergate Scandal.
[i] The appointment now is for a five year term.
The scribe of that scandal, Bob Woodward, collaborated with the former FAA Administrator to write “The Last of the President’s Men.” That book casts a very positive light on the character of the 5th Administrator and contributes to the high stead of the collective reputation of the people who have served aviation safety from that demanding position.