Nominations and grudges: the FAA example

Washington ways, the continuing series. Sometimes a nomination to an important federal post is not about STURGELL.jpg the nominee himself or herself. When the post is a controversial one, or one or another Washington party or group has a grudge, the nomination becomes an issue about the dispute. So it is at the Federal Aviation Administration, which has been without a chief for a few weeks following the end of Marion Blakely’s five-year term. When much-liked Marion left, she left her number two, Bobby Sturgell, in charge. The administration picked Bobby himself as the nominee. Sturgell, a former fighter pilot at the Navy’s ‘Top Gun’ school, was later an airline pilot, worked for the National Transportation Safety Board, has a law degree and has been deputy FAA administrator since 2003. So, no matter how qualified he may be, Sturgell (48) is part of the FAA establishment, which has its enemies.

And one of the most vocal of those enemies, the air-traffic controllers union, wasted no time in deciding to oppose the nomination, issuing a statement within hours of the White House nomination. “The President’s nomination for FAA administrator has been an integral part of this systematic demise of controller staffing and abysmal labour-management relations. Therefore, we will not support a nominee that will continue to exhibit a management philosophy that demoralizes its valuable workforce to the point of leaving,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association president Patrick Forrey said.

A little less jerky of knee was the Air Transport Association. At the same time the announcement came out, the group happened to be holding a press conference to denounce the FAA’s ‘meat axe’ approach to reducing delays at New York JFK, even threatening to sue the FAA. But when a reporter asked ATA chief Jim May if the group would oppose the Sturgell nomination, May seemed almost surprised and said, “Gosh, no. We think the world of Bobby.”

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