Tuesday's ouster of United Airlines' CEO Jeff Smisek in the midst of a federal investigation related to dealings with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has brought new scrutiny to the transportation agency.
In addition to the resignation of Smisek, United also announced that its executive vice president of communications and government affairs and senior vice president of corporate and government affairs have also stepped down.
"The departures announced today are in connection with the company's previously disclosed internal investigation related to the federal investigation associated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey," said United in a statement. "The investigations are ongoing and the company continues to cooperate with the government."
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fischman, declined to comment or confirm there is an ongoing investigation of Smisek's relationship with former Port Authority chairman David Samson. The New York Times reported that Fischman is investigating whether United reinstated service to South Carolina near Sampson's home in exchange for improvements the airline wanted the Port Authority to spearhead at Newark Liberty International Airport, a United hub.
A Port Authority spokesman declined to comment on the United resignations.
Samson resigned his Port Authority post in late March 2014 with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appointing John Degnan as his replacement. The resignation came in the wake of the Port Authority being scrutinized for a September 2013 traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge viewed as possible retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. for not endorsing Christie, which sparked efforts to reform the agency.
The New Jersey Senate Legislative Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on Port Authority reform legislation New York lawmakers adopted in June. The reforms would establish a new management structure that includes a new chief executive officer to replace the executive director and deputy executive director positions as well as increased financial and ethics disclosures.
New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, and State Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, issued statements Wednesday saying the United resignations demonstrate the need for tough reform legislation. The senators also emphasized that the federal investigation raises new questions about why a $1.5 billion PATH extension providing one-seat service from Lower Manhattan to Newark Airport is the Christie administration's top priority in the Port Authority's 10-year capital plan.
"We need to enact meaningful Port Authority reform legislation," said Weinberg in her statement. "Ethics and financial disclosure are not enough. We need to guarantee legislative oversight, establish transportation as the agency's mission, and provide an opportunity for public input on key transportation policy decisions."
The Port Authority is rated Aa3 with a stable outlook by Moody's Investors Service. The agency's 2015 fiscal plan approved last December includes a $3.6 billion capital budget.