Audit highly critical of Airports Authority

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON – Expensive overseas trips. No accountability. One-bid contracts. An Inspector General’s audit lists those items among its criticisms of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The report says the 13-member Airports Authority, which has members from Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and the federal government, is not transparent in its financial dealings and lacks safeguards to make sure its own rules are followed.

The report, requested by Rep. Frank Wolf. R-Va., also says too many contracts are awarded without competition. Board members also have questionable travel expenses. One board member spent $9,200 on an airline ticket to Prague for a conference. Meal expenses for board members and their guests during a three-day trip to Hawaii totaled about $4,800.

Board members are not bound by the same ethical standards as other transportation authorities that are state entities, raising questions of accountability.

Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III’s interim report also raises concerns about conflicts of interest.

The report says the following:

MWAA’s financial disclosure process is insufficient for identifying and evaluating potential conflicts of interest. Because many Board members are established businessmen and professionals and active members of their communities, they may have many financial interests or relationships with multiple organizations that could represent potential conflicts of interest. Yet, MWAA’s financial disclosure form only requires Board members to list the employers of their immediate family members, and to disclose their financial interests in entities that are either currently involved with or seeking a contract with the Authority.

Wolf says this is only an interim report.

“As bad as it is, there may be more,” says Wolf. “I think they were pretty much dysfunctional, knowing that they could do whatever they could and nobody would find out anything.”

The authority now controls the Dulles Toll Road and will use that toll money to finance the construction of Phase 2 of the Dulles Rail Project, which would extend Metro’s subway service to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County.

The report says estimates on revenue from the toll road appear reasonable.

The audit is sure to add fuel to the fiery debate on how to finance the second leg of the rail project.

Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield, who has been a critic of the financing plan says the recent appointees don’t have the best interest of the airports at heart.

“Some of the stuff they’re doing is worse than even the GSA scandal we recently had,” says Herrity.

Herrity supports Gov. Bob McDonnell’s efforts to get two more seats on the board for Virginia.

Another critic of both Airports Authority and the Dulles Rail project, Loudoun Supervisor Ken Reid, R-Leesburg, called the report disturbing.

“This audit should be a wake-up call to every Loudoun County resident on why this county should not extend Metro into this county. Just let it terminate at Dulles Airport,” Reid said,

Loudoun County has been reviewing plans that would include two Metro stations in the county, but the plans would require the county to help finance the project along with the Airports Authority, Fairfax County and the federal government.

The Loudoun board is split on whether to do that. A decision has to be made by July 4.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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