Matthew Lehner, FAA’s Assistant Administrator for Communications
3rd Member of Administrator’s Political team
Expert at Crisis Management
FAA could use Strategic Information Campaign- present public perceptions not on point
Administrator Dickson has added his 2nd political executive (President Biden named Deputy Administrator Mims) to his team. The Chief Counsel and Assistant Administrator for Government and Industry Affairs, two key advisors on important issues with policy implications, have not been selected yet. A recent resignation of the Assistant Administrator for Aviation Safety incumbent, perhaps the most significant career position, created another vacancy.
The addition of Matthew Lehner, as the Assistant Administrator for Communications, gives the Administrator a valuable advisor. As his biography (below) clearly demonstrates Mr. Lehner has been baptized in two crises (Amtrak Northeast Regional No. 188 and the BP Oil Deepwater Horizon). Each event made him a key contact for the press and the Hill on the facts and his employers’ views/actions. These are experiences which grow judgment and critical writing under pressure talents.. Hopefully, while at 800 Independence Avenue, Lehner’s ability to manage a crisis will not be recalled.
The FAA has an oddly dichotomous perception in its PR image, Citizen opinion and Congressional judgment. On the one hand, most of these segments actually want more, not less of the agency’s safety services. On the other hand, the press/public, general populace and the infallible Hill are likely to have negative thoughts about the FAA’s responsiveness, safety performance, budget adherence, air traffic implementation of NextGen (this aspect has two faults- the technology being introduced to the field and the AT tracks being drawn for these new procedures-NOISE!!!).
Partially, these bilateral views of the FAA are the result that few outside the beltway (and maybe even within the Capital Region) understand what the FAA really does and more exactly how it does it from inception to final action. Most of the existing content is event-based, reactive and tactical in tone. The new, highly respected Communications appointee might try to initiate an understated strategic information campaign to inform the constituencies about what his new agency can do and what it must do to meet its mission. Simple stories about the daily activities of an air traffic controller, air carrier inspector, a regulatory specialist, an environmental expert, an economist, a lawyer and even the Administrator does on a routine day. With such seemingly mundane messages build more support for those who face these daily challenges. A well-designed campaign might even reduce the expectations that a “simple” job is far more complex than what one might project without the full picture.
President Biden appointed Matthew Lehner as the Assistant Administrator for Communications in May 2021. He serves as an advisor to the FAA Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and the management board, as well as leaders at the U.S Department of Transportation. Mr. Lehner is the spokesperson on media relations before the Congress, other agencies, and the public.
Prior to joining the FAA, Mr. Lehner held leadership roles in the Obama Administration and on Capitol Hill in the U.S. Senate. In the Obama Administration, he led the public affairs office at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration in the aftermath of Amtrak 188 crashing outside of Philadelphia. He was also part of the DOT communications team when then-Vice President Biden announced a $2.5-billion loan for Amtrak to purchase its new Acela fleet.
Mr. Lehner became one of the youngest communications directors in the U.S. Senate guiding the communications offices for the U.S. Senate Energy Committee and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) during the BP Oil Spill. His work with Landrieu resulted in three bills becoming law, including the largest investment in coastal restoration in U.S. history.
Born and raised in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, Lehner graduated with honors from Saint Louis University.
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