FAA administrator Randy Babbitt requested and was granted an immediate leave of absence Monday afternoon after it emerged that he had been arrested Saturday night and charged with driving while intoxicated, and the one-time Eastern Airlines pilot's hold on FAA's top job appears tenuous.

Babbitt's term runs through May 2014, but the US Dept. of Transportation (DOT) said Monday that "officials are in discussions with legal counsel about administrator Babbitt's employment status." DOT, the federal department under which FAA resides, said transportation secretary Ray LaHood had not learned of the Saturday night arrest until Monday afternoon. White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama also learned of the arrest Monday afternoon and "reacted as you might expect," but declined to say whether the White House would seek Babbitt's resignation.

FAA deputy administrator Michael Huerta has assumed the role of acting administrator. Babbitt was arrested Saturday night in Fairfax County, Va., after police saw him allegedly driving his car on the wrong side of the road.

Sworn in as FAA's 16th administrator on June 1, 2009, Babbitt spent 25 years as a pilot for Eastern Airlines and also served as president and CEO of the Air Line Pilots Assn. from January 1991 through December 1998 (ATW, January 2010).

Photo: FAA administrator Randy Babbitt