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Washington Airports Authority: Poster Child for Corruption

November 16, 2012

Washington, DC – 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 (R-FL) conducted a hearing today 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 (R-WI), 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 (R-VA) and Tom Latham (R-IA), 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 today’s 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.

For more information from today’s hearing, including witness statements, click here.

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