On the day the Trump administration finally installed a permanent chief for the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. officials confirmed the imminent departure of the nation’s top highway safety manager.
Hours after Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao swore in former Delta Air Lines executive Stephen Dickson as FAA administrator on Monday, her office issued a statement saying Heidi King, acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, would resign Aug. 31.
The administration has been slow to place permanent leadership in those crucial safety roles.
The top FAA post had been filled on an acting basis since January 2018. President Trump wanted his personal pilot considered for the job, an idea that lacked support in the Senate. Dickson was nominated after two Boeing 737 Max jets crashed and the agency came under increased scrutiny earlier this year.
King’s nomination, in April 2018, was twice approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation but wasn’t voted on by the full Senate.
NHTSA is responsible for policies meant to reduce crashes and traffic fatalities, which the agency estimated topped 36,000 in 2018.
King, who worked on the Trump administration’s efforts to undo Obama-era tailpipe emissions standards and other initiatives at NHTSA, did not immediately respond to an interview request concerning her departure.
She is being replaced as the agency’s acting administrator by James Owens, the Transportation Department’s deputy general counsel.
Officials said Monday that the Transportation Department’s general counsel, Steven Bradbury, also added the title of acting deputy secretary. Both Owens and Bradbury have played major roles in the effort to roll back higher gas mileage requirements for new cars.
That major deregulatory project became more complicated last month when four automakers reached a deal with California to produce vehicles that will get much better mileage than required under the Trump administration’s proposal. In their new roles, Owens and Bradbury will be in a position to push further on what remains one of the administration’s key deregulatory priorities.
After his swearing-in, Dickson sought to ease concerns from skeptics that his background as an airline official might make him too receptive to industry interests.
“FAA strives to be a constructive partner with the wider industry,” Dickson said, “but we can never, and will never, forget that we are a regulator whose first responsibility is the safety of the flying public.”