Departing FAA chief comes under fire

WASHINGTON -- The nation's top aviation regulator is under criticism for accepting a job as head of a trade group that frequently lobbies for the aviation industry on government spending and policy.

Marion Blakey, who heads the Federal Aviation Administration, agreed in July to become president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), starting Nov. 12. The association represents firms her agency oversaw and awarded contracts to during her five-year tenure.

In recent weeks, the FAA has awarded a contract worth up to $1.8 billion to revamp the nation's air-traffic system, issued emergency safety orders on Boeing jets and aggressively pushed Congress to adopt fees to fund long-term air-traffic improvements. All of those actions could affect the AIA.

Blakey, whose FAA term ends Thursday, said she has been "scrupulously careful" to follow federal ethics rules and had no direct involvement in matters relating to her new employer since job negotiations began in late June. She filed a letter June 29 vowing not to participate in the creation of rules that could affect association member Boeing, according to a document released Tuesday.

Groups that monitor ethics in Washington were critical.

"It raises some pretty serious ethics questions," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, said Blakey's actions fit the public's "worst fear" of government.

"Under the Bush administration, the revolving door has spun out of control," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who has proposed tighter rules on officials leaving government.

Blakey said she has not taken a direct role in any regulatory action that affects the AIA, which represents aircraft manufacturers and defense contractors. She said she was "taken aback and a little appalled, frankly" at issues being raised.

She said that because the member firms of the AIA competed against one another so aggressively, it provided incentive for her not to weigh in on behalf of any single company.

John Douglass, the AIA's outgoing president and CEO, bristled at charges that hiring Blakey could cause a conflict.

"This idea that when someone leaves the government and goes to work in our American industrial base there's something wrong with that, I totally reject that," Douglass said.

For federal executives at Blakey's level, the annual salary is $168,000, according to the U.S. government's "Plum Book." Blakey and the AIA haven't released her new salary, but federal tax forms indicate Douglass made $531,653 in 2005.