FAA being handed off to another lobbyist

At the same time as we’re preparing to lose the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we’re getting a new administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). At first glance, the new administrator probably won’t come as much of a surprise since he was already serving as the deputy for the organization. The Hill has the details.

Daniel Elwell will serve as acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) starting this weekend, taking over at a critical time for the aviation agency, the Transportation Department said Friday.

Elwell, a former Air Force lieutenant general and former commercial airline pilot for American Airlines, is currently the FAA’s deputy administrator.

He was previously a senior vice president for safety, security and operations with Airlines for America (A4A), the leading trade group representing most of the nation’s major airlines.

The term of Michael Huerta, appointed by Barack Obama in 2013, expired on Saturday. Elwell has a resume which, for the most part, wouldn’t raise many eyebrows on the hill. In addition to already having served as deputy, he is a veteran who served as a pilot both in the military and later in commercial airline work. He has the support of both President Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He previously held a high level FAA position under George W. Bush and also founded his own aviation consulting group. So what’s not to like?

Well… for the most part, he’s clearly qualified. But he also has one other significant entry on his resume, covering the time when he worked as a senior vice president at Airlines for America (A4A), the largest lobbyist group serving the airline industry. As you’ll recall from our previous coverage here, A4A is the powerful lobbying organization which has been trying to hammer through the failed Air Traffic Control (ATC) privatization scheme which was being pushed for so long by the aforementioned head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. That would be Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster. As you may have also heard, Shuster’s girlfriend is an executive at A4A.

So it’s not really a question of Elwell being qualified for the position. He obviously is. But he’s also coming out of the same lobbying pit which has been operating a revolving door for people between the government and the lobbyist community for generations. Wasn’t this supposed to be one of the key principles of draining the swamp? It was at the heart of one of the first Executive Orders signed by Trump after taking office, titled Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees. Granted, that provision is generally held to apply to people who are leaving the government rather than joining it, but one would imagine that the same principles would apply.

We were supposed to be shutting down these incestuous relationships, not encouraging them. We’ve got the same problem in the energy industry, where staffers for Chuck Grassley are skipping town from their Corn Country government jobs to take well paid positions with ethanol lobbying groups. Until both the White House and Congress start practicing what they preach and breaking these repeating cycles, we’re not going to be draining any swamps in the foreseeable future.