Philip Washington, Bringing Sexism to the Federal Aviation Administration

Tuesday, August 30, 2022 // Op-Ed

Phillip Washington has been nominated to be the FAA Administrator.  Currently, Washington is the Chief Executive Officer of Denver International Airport (DEN).  As the CEO of DEN, Mr. Washington is responsible for the stewardship of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding provided by the Federal Aviation Administration.

There are serious concerns about Washington’s leadership of DEN, specifically, that he belongs to a professional organization that prohibits women from joining and has served as an “old-boys-club” to which he has turned to for hiring, doing so at the expense of qualified women who should have been offered equal opportunities to advance in the transportation industry.

A discrimination investigation, named the Woolley report, during Mr. Washington’s time at Los Angeles Metro revealed that he belonged to a group known colloquially as “Chicken Bone.”  While public details are scant about “Chicken Bone” its name is apparently a reference to the Skull and Bones society at Yale University.  While all details are not known about Chicken Bone, what is known is that the group discriminates against women, and that Phillip Washington admitted as much but continues to be a member. From the Woolley report submitted to the Los Angeles County Counsel and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, March 11, 2020:

Washington acknowledged that a group called Chicken Bone exists. Washington explained that Chicken Bone is an informal networking group that advocates for infrastructure issues. … Washington said the group is men-only, but women can attend receptions and other events. He said the group is considering how to include women in membership.

In 2020 it is difficult to understand how someone would be part of a professional association that excluded women.  One is led to wonder what type of activities occur at Chicken Bone events that make women’s membership a challenge that the group needs to consider how to overcome.  Or is the matter that Mr. Washington deems women not to be his peers, and unworthy of professionally networking with?

Further it is troubling that it appears Mr. Washington may be using professional connections developed with Chicken Bone members to influence his hiring decisions.  In the same Woolley report it is made clear that one of Washington’s leading deputies at LA Metro, Alex Wiggins, was also a member of Chicken Bone. From testimony of Sandra Solis, Director of Finance and Administrative Management Services:

Solis said she knew about Chicken Bone only through what A. Wiggins told her. She said A. Wiggins related that Chicken Bone is a group of African American men who are high-level leaders. She said that the group is limited to African Americans and men, although women are invited to some events. Solis said A. Wiggins sponsored an event in Chicago where men could bring women as guests.

Importantly, Washington brought Wiggins, who was then a contractor working with Regional Transportation District in Denver, with him to the Los Angeles Metro system when Mr. Washington moved from the Denver Regional Transportation District in 2015.   Washington went so far as to create a new position explicitly for his Chicken Bone colleague.

Unfortunately, like members in other better known exclusionary societies, Chicken Bone member Wiggins behaved like the rules did not apply to them.  Wiggins was so out of control that the Los Angeles County Attorney determined that his leadership was so toxic that it created a workplace “riven with racial tensions,” that he retaliated against an investigation witness, and he created a “corrosive environment” in his office.  Sadly, Wiggins’ behavior is exactly the kind that you expect from someone who is a member of an exclusive club like Chicken Bone.

Congress should seriously question whether it is willing to confirm someone who has clearly exercised such poor judgement and is a member of such a problematic group.