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Washington Airports Authority A Poster Child For Corruption
By Shane Nolan

November 21, 2012 - The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee called the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) a poster child for corruption, and called for significant steps to improve the Authority’s management of D.C. area transportation systems.

Chairman John L. Mica conducted a hearing on the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s (DOT IG) recent audit highlighting problems with MWAA management policies, practices and programs.

“This is a sad chapter for Metropolitan Washington and advocates for good D.C. transportation,” Mica said. “Information uncovered by the Inspector General revealed that MWAA has become a poster child for corrupt practices.


“The IG found problems with hiring practices, a lack of competition for contracts, and ethical violations,” Mica continued. “For example, the Inspector General report highlighted cases where contractors provided MWAA employees with trips to golf tournaments, tickets to other sporting events and concerts, and tickets for the Super Bowl, travel and accommodations amounting to nearly $5,000. MWAA senior officials were improperly filling vacancies, awarding excessive salaries, and providing unjustified hiring bonuses. MWAA also gave preferential treatment to friends and relatives of Board members.”

Mica also cited a news report that MWAA employees had been sounding alarms years before the DOT IG investigation. According to the Washington Examiner, comments from an employee survey in 2010 urged changes to the culture of management at MWAA by eliminating the “corruption,” “favoritism,” “nepotism,” etc.

“People must be held accountable for this kind of corruption, and steps must be taken to thoroughly address the problems at MWAA,” Mica added. “While some interim changes have been made, none of these have been fully implemented or independently reviewed.”

“The DOT Inspector General’s findings are alarming and raise many questions,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, Chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee. “I am pleased to learn that both the Department and the Authority are taking steps to address the issues uncovered by the Inspector General, but we must remain vigilant to ensure that any steps taken resolve the problems.”



MWAA is an independent public body established by Congress and responsible for managing some of the Washington, DC region’s major transportation systems and projects, including Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the Dulles Toll Road, and an ongoing extension of Metrorail to Dulles Airport. At the request of Congressmen Frank Wolf and Tom Latham, the DOT IG examined and found significant issues with MWAA’s (1) contract award and procurement practices, including compliance with relevant laws, (2) code of ethics for employees, (3) hiring and compensation practices, and (4) accountability and transparency of its Board of Director activities.

Calvin L. Scovel, III, the Department’s Inspector General, testified at hearing, in addition to the Department Secretary Ray LaHood and MWAA’s Chairman of the Board of Directors Michael Curto. Scovel said in prepared testimony, “In summary, MWAA’s policies and practices have not provided the controls needed to ensure accountability, transparency, and sound governance. MWAA’s lack of internal controls has created a culture that allows questionable contracting practices by staff as well as its Board of Directors and senior officials including initiating work before contract award, awarding sole source and limited competition contracts without proper justification, and providing non-public information that gives potential contractors an unfair advantage in competition.

“MWAA’s code of ethics and related policies and procedures have similarly been insufficient to detect violations of anti-nepotism and gift provisions and identify potential conflicts of interest. Lacking a formal policy for filling vacancies or creating new positions has allowed senior officials to place candidates into new or existing positions without job descriptions, competition, or completed background checks. Finally, MWAA’s policies and processes have not ensured accountability and transparency for activities conducted by its Board of Directors.”

“While MWAA is taking positive steps to correct the deficiencies we identified, further actions are needed to fully address these deficiencies to ensure fiduciary and ethical responsibility and restore public trust in the soundness of its current and future activities,” said Scovel. Leaders of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority reported they welcomed the Inspector General’s report and will us it as an aid in improving transparency and accountability and Earning Public Trust.

The final report, which follows an Interim Report released in May, completes a 16-month audit that has prompted calls for improvements in areas including procurement, travel and ethics policies, human resources practices and transparency. Over the past months, the Authority has been engaged in a number of initiatives to review and revise policies and procedures across the organization.

“We take all the issues and concerns cited in the report very seriously and will respond to all of the report’s recommendations,” Authority Board Chairman Michael Curto said. “We are examining today’s report with a particular focus on items that were not discussed in the Interim Report.” Curto noted that the Authority is making significant progress addressing issues cited by the Inspector General, with several major policy revisions complete and others under way.

“We are gratified that the final report acknowledges the actions we have taken since the May Interim Report, as well as our ongoing initiatives, to bring greater transparency and accountability, efficiency, and integrity to our operations and governance,” Curto said. “We are committed to strong oversight and internal controls and to making certain that everything we do going forward reflects the best practices of government and industry. We will use this report as a tool in expanding and enhancing our work to increase transparency, strengthen governance and build renewed public trust.”

Curto emphasized that the Airports Authority has been working closely with a Federal Accountability Officer appointed by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to review and revamp policies and procedures and to address issues raised by LaHood, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf.

“While the criticisms and issues raised have been unpleasant to hear and will require hard work to address we appreciate their interest and guidance, and we know they share our goal of making the Airports Authority a better organization.” Airports Authority President and CEO Jack Potter noted that in the area of procurement, the Authority is “well into the process of revising our contracting manual and other procedures to reflect best practices and promote fair and open competition.

“In the area of human resources, we are moving forward with a process to ensure that at our hiring processes, our compensation and benefits structures to assure that they are consistent with our goal of best practices,” Potter said, adding that the Board recently approved the airports police department’s pursuit of regulatory approval for additional authority to conduct criminal background checks to aid the personnel process.

Potter further noted that “some issues cited in the report are one-time or isolated events, which were detected and dealt with when they occurred during the five years covered by the audit. For some other issues, we need to have the details and facts to be sure we have a fair and accurate assessment of the findings. We are asking the Inspector General to share those facts and details with us.” Potter thanked Authority employees for remaining “focused on customer service and on our core missions of managing Reagan and Dulles airports and the Dulles Toll Road and construction of the Silver Line. All those enterprises are operating well, which is a testament to the talent and dedication of the MWAA staff.”

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