FAA Candidate Faces Historical Odds

Photograph by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Michael Huerta, right, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, announcing a sweeping final rule that overhauls commercial passenger airline pilots scheduling to ensure pilots have a longer opportunity to rest before they enter the cockpit.

The precedent for this does not bode well:

Michael Huerta, acting chief of the Federal Aviation Administration since his former boss stepped down after a drunk-driving arrest in December, will face his first hurdle next week on the path toward becoming the agency’s administrator.

The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a nomination hearing for Huerta on June 21 at 10 a.m. Huerta, who had been Randy Babbitt’s deputy and the FAA official in charge of the agency’s ambitious program to update the air-traffic system, is being considered for a five-year term.

While the Huerta nomination is proceeding, the most recent precedent for an acting FAA head seeking Senate confirmation does not look good for Huerta.

Four years ago, as President George W. Bush’s administration neared an end, he nominated then-acting FAA head Bobby Sturgell to become FAA administrator. The nomination was blocked by Democratic senators, and Sturgell served out his time as the acting chief.

The reason for the holdup has to do with the unusual structure of the FAA job. Unlike other high-level U.S. political appointees, who serve only as long as the president who nominated them is in office, the FAA job has a five-year term.

If Huerta were to win Senate support, he would serve for five years, according to his nomination papers. That means that he would serve through the next president’s term, regardless of whether that is Obama or the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Huerta and Romney are not unfamiliar with each other. Huerta served as managing director of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, according to his FAA biography Web-page. Romney left Bain Capital to head the Olympics organizing committee.




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