Was FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt’s resignation the right decision?

As widely reported this week, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt resigned from his post because he made a terrible decision this past Saturday and drove drunk. As head of an agency devoted in part to regulating aviation safety for the nation, stepping down was the obvious and logical decision. Or was it?

Before being appointed to the top FAA post by President Obama, Mr. Babbitt had a celebrated career including 25-years as a pilot and Captain with Eastern Airlines, being President and CEO of the US-ALPA pilot’s union, holding a seat on the FAA’s Management Advisory Council, and I could go on and on.

He’s certainly not the first public figure to face such a charge while in office. Spending a few minutes searching for others I found:

  • Utah Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack in 2010
  • Representative Vito Fossella of New York in 2008
  • Senator Ron Menor of Hawaii in 2008
  • Representative Michael Gruitza of Pennsylvania in 2000
  • Senator Chuck Graham of Missouri in 2007
  • Representative Jarrod Martin of Ohio in 2011
  • Gordon Campbell, Premier of Canada’s British Columbia in 2003
  • … and I could go on and on

Is the head of the FAA compared to Congressional and other leadership posts an apples to oranges comparison? Maybe. Some of those noted above resigned, some didn’t. Now before I put my opinion out there, let me make it clear that drunk driving is a very serious offense and Mr. Babbitt could have easily killed someone especially since it was reported he was driving on the wrong side of the road. I am not excusing his actions. Fortunately, no one was injured and he will likely plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

The politics of society seem to dictate that anyone in public office should step down after a drunk driving arrest. I disagree and think it should be taken on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Babbitt has a long and successful career and his unique experience is one of the reasons President Obama appointed him to the post after a successful vetting process. I would have liked to see him continue in his post.

Joan Lowy of the Associated Press reports Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta who has taken Mr. Babbitt’s post is, “a well-regarded manager but lacks his predecessor’s insider knowledge of the nation’s airlines.” Representative John Mica of Florida said, “(Mr. Babbitt’s) departure creates a serious setback, leaving (the) FAA in limbo at a critical time for the agency.”

Mr. Babbitt was halfway through his five-year term and Mr. Huerta will likely continue in the post through 2012 because, “the White House probably will want to avoid a possible nomination fight before the Nov. 6 presidential election.” Ugh, more politics.

Would I feel differently had he seriously injured or killed someone? Absolutely. There would be no question in my mind his resignation was appropriate. Again, please don’t misunderstand my point. His impaired decision to get in a car and drive was a terrible one, but I don’t think such an offense should automatically result in a resignation.

What do you think?

[poll id=”4″]

Comments

  1. I think it was the proper thing to do given the code of conduct, when it comes to alcohol, that is expected of Pilots & FAA staff. As the head of the FAA what kind of example does it set for your staff if you behave in such a manner.

    Professionally he did the proper thing by resigning without the public screaming for his removal. Is it a rather harsh punishment for a very poor decision, yes. Bottom line he’ll probably go on to make more money in the private sector so I’m certain that this is only a minor set-back for such a talented individual.

  2. We rightfully hold public officials to high standards and he did the honorable thing by resigning.

    If he (or other public officials) remain in place after doing something as stupid as driving drunk, it sends a message to the public that perhaps driving drunk is NOT such a big deal.

    Driving drunk is a HUGE deal and whether he injured someone or not doesn’t matter because there is huge potential for his actions to have caused harm!

  3. @Nancy: Very well said. He certainly will have a successful career beyond this incident. I understand your viewpoint, as his behavior should be one to model and this incident is anything but that.

    @MMS: I, too, understand your viewpoint, but believe more in second chances. I get what you’re saying about sending a message… I think there is room for an adequate apology, demonstration of commitment to never do it again and attempting to rebuild trust after a disgraceful incident.

  4. I think it sends the right message. Driving under the influence was a conscious choice he made. It was complete optional for him to drive after drinking so much. Considering how pilots are dealt with who are found under the influence of alcohol, it seems fitting that the “leader” of the airline agency is held to the same standard. He needs to be held accountable for this.

  5. I voted.

    While I think that he made a commendable decision by stepping down, I also think that it would have been acceptable if he had decided to stay but take a leave of absence to address the issue.

    Obviously, it was a terrible lapse in judgement and very likely crime, but it didn’t involve a misappropriation of government funds, an abuse of power, or a violation of his office, so I think that it could have be treated as a HR issue rather than a political one.

    I can understand how others might see it differently, and I’m reluctant to “lower the bar” when it comes to the standard of behavior we expect from those in government, but I think it might have been possible for him to accept responsibility, change, and still serve honorably in the position.

    It’s a tough question though….that said, I still voted “Yes”. I guess just because stepping down wasn’t the wrong thing to do.

    Interesting poll. Glad you brought it up.

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