The U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General released a report Tuesday that is highly critical of how the little-known but powerful and rich Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) manages itself.
The Airports Authority is an independent quasi-government agency that manages Reagan National and Dulles airports, oversees the construction of the new Silver Metro line, manages the Dulles Toll Road and has its own police force that patrols the Toll Road.
The airports authority has 1,400 employes and a $2 billion budget, The Washington Post reported. The 18-page interim report was requested by Rep. Fran Wolf (R-Va) and Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa). A copy of the report accompanies this story.
Rob Jackson, outgoing president of the McLean Citizens Association, wrote a critique of the report and shared it:
Today, the US DOT IG, released its interim report on MWAA, copy attached. The report was requested by Congressmen Wolf and Latham. It strikes me as shameful that a rouge agency has been permitted access to public funds for years. Now will our elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, take quick and strict action to control MWAA? Will MWAA’s leadership be removed, and how soon?
The following is the summary of observations from US DOT.
SUMMARY OF OBSERVATIONS
“Although the airports and projects it operates are federally owned or financed, MWAA is independent of the Federal Government and not subject to Federal laws that govern ethics, transparency, access to information, procurement, and other areas. As such, MWAA’s governance depends on the strength of its internal codes, policies, and processes, and its adherence to them. However, our work to date indicates that MWAA’s accountability to Congress, stakeholders, and the public—as well as its compliance with the Act—has been limited by weaknesses in its internal policies and oversight of these policies.
In particular, MWAA’s policies and procedures related to financial disclosures, travel, and transparency are insufficient to ensure fiduciary and ethical responsibility in the Board’s expenses and activities. MWAA’s contracting policies and practices are similarly insufficient to ensure compliance with the Act’s provisions and its internal procurement procedures, resulting in contracts that are not subject to full and open competition and may not represent best value.
“MWAA’s policies and practices are generally less rigorous than corresponding State and Federal rules. Notably, MWAA’s government-appointed Board members are not bound to the same State ethics and financial disclosure laws as the elected officials who appointed them. This puts MWAA and its Board of Directors in a unique position compared to other major transportation authorities that are State entities—and subject to State ethics, transparency, and procurement laws—or Federal entities subject to corresponding Federal laws.
Moreover, the policies lack procedural safeguards for ensuring they are followed. There are limited avenues for judicial review, and few other mechanisms (such as penalties for non-compliance) for addressing concerns regarding MWAA’s ethics, transparency, contracting, and other practices.6
“Our ongoing review has revealed a culture that is largely unaccustomed to external audits and inquiries by the accountability community. While MWAA has freely cooperated in most areas of our review, Board and staff in some areas were reluctant to provide access to key documents and grant us private interviews with Board members.
"MWAA’s reluctance to providing us full transparency may be attributable to the fact that it has experienced few independent audits since its creation 25 years ago. In contrast, similar entities, such as the Board of Directors of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, must follow Texas State law and guidelines related to ethics, transparency, and procurement, and willful failure to comply can be punishable by imprisonment and fines.7 However, increased public and governmental scrutiny is likely for MWAA as it continues its progress on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project and other high-profile endeavors. This will necessitate a greater commitment to ensuring transparency to its stakeholders and the public to promote and sustain confidence in the integrity of its actions and decisions.
“Finally, based on our preliminary review, MWAA’s assumptions for Dulles Toll Road revenue appear reasonable.”
“6. Another consequence is that there is less protection for employees who report fraud, waste, and abuse or who are asked to cooperate with investigations. Employees of most Federal entities are protected by Section 7c of the Inspector General Act, which prohibits reprisals for making complaints or disclosing information to an Inspector General.
Most States have similar provisions for State employees. See, e.g., Virginia Code Ann. § 2.2-3009 et seq; MD Code, State Personnel and Pensions, § 5-305. This includes obtaining financial disclosure information.”
“7. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reviewed some aspects of MWAA’s contracting procedures, most recently in 2002, but has not conducted an audit of MWAA’s overall management policies and processes as we do in our current work.”