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Wed, Sep 21, 2022

Uh, Oh... FAA Admin Nominee Named in LA Corruption Probe

Former MTA Supervisor & Possible FAA Administrator Named for Role in Public Works Contract Award

Phillip Washington, the Biden administration's nominee to head up the FAA has been included in the warrant of a Los Angeles Corruption probe. 

Washington, who assumed the position as CEO of the Denver International Airport in July 2021, may be on track to fill the shoes of Steve Dickson after his surprise resignation from the FAA earlier this year. (Currently, Billy Nolan continues to act as interim FAA Administrator.) It was hoped that Washington's resumé of transportation industry bonafides would provide a solid base of experience to steer the figurative ship through uncharted and uncertain economic waters. Before his stint in Denver, Colorado, Washington was the CEO of Los Angeles Metro, where he oversaw an $8 billion budget, a 2,200-strong bus fleet, a rail line, and 11,000 employees from 2015 to 2021. Every day, the MTA sees an average of 1.2 million passengers use its services, one of the busiest public transportation bodies in the USA. Prior to his MTA stint, Washington worked as CEO of the Denver Regional Transportation District.

That job, as it happens, is central to the corruption probe due to a sole source,  noncompetitive contract awarded by the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The contract went to Peace Over Violence, a non-profit organization run by close friend of LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, as outlined in the warrant. Peace Over Violence was paid to create a phone hotline for sexual harassment along with a bevy of counseling and educational services pertaining to such crimes ocurring in the LA mass transit system. The program was not apparently a high-use resource, as the warrant makes mention of low uptake among the traveling public of Los Angeles. Despite it’s low popularity, the MTA still renewed the contract over multiple years, eventually paying Peace Over Violence $890,000 for their underutilized services for 2018 and 2019. 

The warrant includes a portion of whistleblower testimony that called attention to Washington's involvement in the contract, stating that they were ordered to pay the group $75,000 before the MTA had authorized any contract with Peace Over Violence. Reportedly, Washington preferred not to upset LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, opting to pay the premature funding to "later use that to his advantage when he needed a political favor" from Kuehl. As a part of the investigation, LA County Sheriffs searched the MTA's offices, in addition to the residences of Kuehl and Patti Giggans, head of Peace Over Violence. 

Where this leaves Phillip Washington in his hypothetical FAA career remains to be seen. There is no date for a committee vote on his appointment, and the ongoing investigation may not provide much cause for denial when finished. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi has responded to the brouhaha with a statement, saying he found it disconcerting that someone with very little aviation industry experience would soon take the highest aeronautical position in the land. 

“When Mr. Washington was nominated in July, I expressed my skepticism surrounding his lack of experience in aviation. Now I am deeply troubled to learn the nominee was named in a search warrant that ties him to allegations of corruption at LA Metro,” Wicker said. “The committee’s vetting process will require additional scrutiny and review into his leadership at LA Metro. I anticipate that this nominee’s credibility will also be a key focus of the committee.”

FMI: www.commerce.senate.gov

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