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Airports Board Gets Scathing Letter From LaHood, Governors

D.C. mayor, Md and Va. govs call for immediate reforms

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Workers reach a milestone on the Silver Line to Dulles airport, a  multi-billion-dollar project being managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board.  
Armando Trull
Workers reach a milestone on the Silver Line to Dulles airport, a  multi-billion-dollar project being managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board.  

Top federal and state lawmakers are condemning the the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board, citing the board's "lack of accountability, transparency, and sound judgement."

The organization, which oversees the region's airports and all airport-related business, is "in desperate need of reform," wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in a letter dated Aug. 14. The MWAA board oversees Reagan National and Dulles International airports, as well as the Dulles Toll Road. It is currently undertaking the $2.7 billion Dulles rail project. 

The statements come on the heels of a federal Inspector General draft report that raises concerns about MWAA's contracting, ethics and travel policies, according to the letter. It also comes a day after a Fairfax County judge refused to replace board member Dennis Martire — who has been criticized for over-spending on travel expenses on MWAA business — with another member appointed by the Virginia governor. 

"We are outraged by ongoing reports describing questionable dealings, including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former Board members and employees and the employment of former Board members," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. 

The group of local leaders called for some reforms to be instituted immediately, including: 

  • Swiftly overhaul financial, procurement and human resources policies
  • Terminate all existing contracts with former Board members and former employees that were not competitively bid
  • Terminate all existing employment relationships with former Board members, 
  • Tighten travel procedures to eliminate wasteful spending
  • Implement a transparency program that requires open meetings and the posting of meeting announcements, agendas and all minutes on the internet
  • Ensure executive sessions are used for limited and proper purposes

The lawmakers accused the board of breaching the public trust, adding that its "wholehearted implementation of these changes is the only acceptable course of action." 

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton says there are just too many problems. "Two hundred million dollars in non-competitive contracts that were awarded in many cases to associates and friends of members of the board, says Connaughton. "We're looking at all types of irregular travel with people taking trips all over the world."

MWAA Board Chair Michael Curto responded to the letter in a statement issued Tuesday, saying the board has been working "for several months" to address the concerns raised by the DOT inspector general's report. 

"We have ended, or are in the process of ending, all professional services contracts with former board members," Curto said. In addition, the agency has instituted a "revised travel policy," decreased Freedom of Information Act response time, and begun posting more meeting minutes on the board's website, among other initiatives, according to Curto's response. 

The agency is "committed to restoring public trust wherever it is lost and to earning and assuring the confidence of the people we serve," Curto concluded.


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