FAA administrator to head trade group when term expires

Blakey testifies before a Senate Commerce Committee last year. Blakey testifies before a Senate Commerce Committee last year. Kevin Dietsch /Landov
The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said late Tuesday that once her five-year appointment ends this fall, she will take a job as president and CEO of an aerospace trade group.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey's term is up Sept. 13, and she will join the Aerospace Industries Association on Nov. 12.

"Her exceptional experience in the executive branch of government, as well her deep expertise in public affairs and government relations, will greatly benefit all the members of AIA as she represents the industry in the years ahead," said William Swanson, chair of the AIA Board of Governors and chairman and CEO of Raytheon, in a statement.

Blakey chaired the National Transportation Safety Board before her appointment at the FAA, and served as administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration from 1992 to 1993.

Between those periods of government service, she headed the consulting firm Blakey & Associates -- now Blakey & Agnew and headed by her sister Leslie and Jeff Agnew -- which specialized in transportation issues. Her clients included major industry players like DaimlerChrysler and Lockheed Martin, which is an AIA member. During Blakey's time at the FAA, Lockheed Martin won a $1.9 billion contract to run the agency's automated flight service stations, facilities that provide information to pilots about the weather and other flying conditions.

Critics expressed disappointment at the timing of the announcement of Blakey's appointment and its possible impact on aviation issues up for debate this fall. The legislation authorizing and funding the FAA expires at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Blakey has backed a proposal to change the way the agency is funded, and both the House and the Senate reauthorization bills include plans to give FAA employees more rights during contract negotiations.

"It's disappointing that the announcement was made while she's still the administrator," said Tom Brantley, president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, the union that represents FAA safety and maintenance workers. "I think it's inappropriate. I think it would be very hard for her to try to advocate any position without others looking at it with a jaundiced eye."

Though in the past, trade associations and lobbying firms often were eager to tout their hires from the highest ranks of government, "I've actually seen a trend where people aren't announcing where they're going when they leave public office," said Scott Amey, general counsel at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight. "It draws more attention when it's announced when they're still in the government."

Regardless of appearances, Blakey may face restrictions on her activities as she moves over to the trade group. Because she was paid at Level II of the Executive Schedule, according to the 2004 Plum Book, she falls into a category of senior employees banned from lobbying their old agencies for a year after leaving government service under guidelines from the Office of Government Ethics.

That restriction could block Blakey from pushing a priority that she and the AIA share: the development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which would include revamping FAA's funding structure and upgrading air traffic control technology.

Blakey will replace John Douglass, who has headed AIA since 1998. According to National Journal magazine's most recent salary survey, Douglass's fiscal 2004 compensation was $603,856.

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