FAA: Help Desperately Wanted

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Who wouldn't want a high-profile Washington job that has a five-year term, pays $150,000 and puts 48,506 employees and a Gulfstream IV jet at your disposal? Lots of people, apparently. Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey is leaving in eight weeks, and there are no viable applicants lined up to replace her. Time is short: vetting a candidate can take months, and then the nominee must be approved by the Senate, which will recess on Aug. 2. The Bush Administration is so desperate, it even asked Garvey, a Democrat, to stay. But she has had enough. Garvey is the first FAA chief in history to serve a five-year term. Even worse for the country's air-safety system, the FAA still has not been able to fill the job of chief operating officer, created by Congress in 2000. And the agency's top career civil servant, Monte Belger, now acting deputy administrator, is calling it quits on July 31.

Critics say the FAA is in danger of moving even more slowly than usual while the bureaucracy and stakeholders await a new leader. The airline industry is trying to hustle up its own candidates, but nobody yet seems willing to take the hefty pay cut for the privilege of being abused by airlines, Congress and frustrated flyers. Aviation-industry veterans are getting worried that the position might never attract a high-quality candidate. "The job is only good for a human punching bag," says one