A long-awaited report about the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s Inspector General calls for actions beyond what the regional panel has already undertaken.
MWAA, responsible for constructing Metro’ Silver Line project from Falls Church to Ashburn, came under fire for lax oversight of its members. The IG report also raises questions about whether the organization’s policies permit favoritism in awarding contracts and nepotism in awarding jobs.
For the full report, see the PDF attached to this article.
After an interim report from the IG, MWAA approved a new travel policy and code of ethics, revised bylaws for board members and its Freedom of Information Policy and terminated contracts with former board members. But the IG’s final report finds those measures inadequate.
“While these are the types of actions needed to ensure fiduciary and ethical responsibility, further actions remain to fully address the management weaknesses we identified during our audit,” a summary of the report states.
A response to the report from MWAA on Thursday appears to show the organization is prepared to accept the criticism and work with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to make improvements.
“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,” MWAA said in a press release.
But the statement falls in stark contract with a letter sent one month earlier by MWAA board member Robert Clarke Brown to LaHood (see attached PDF), in which he charged the secretary with overstepping his bounds and requests the government shift its focus from investigating MWAA to helping fund the Silver Line, which currently relies primarily on tolls along the Dulles Toll Road. The tolls are expected to rise significantly if an additional infusion of money cannot be found. In fact, Brown praises the work of MWAA, disregarding the issues raised by the IG report.
“The Metropolitan Washing Airports Authority is a triumph of good transportation policy, a vivid demonstration of what a regional approach can accomplish in a large metropolitan area,” Brown wrote. “Not only have your repeated encroachments on MWAA’s independence been of questionable lawfulness, they have also gone far beyond the traditional role of U.S. DOT in local project development and execution.”
Brown went on to add that “most members” of the MWAA board “believed the Inspector General was acting far beyond the scope of his legal authority.”
In Brown’s letter, sent on MWAA letterhead, he acknowledges that the criticisms of the organization “have not been without merit,” but “I urge you now to turn your efforts on behalf of the Silver Line away from local politics and yesterday’s governance problems, and toward the real challenge the project still faces.”
Those problems were identified as securing state and federal funding for the project. The federal government contributed $900 million to the project’s first phase, about one-third of the cost. No federal money has been allocated for phase two, estimated to cost an additional $2.7 billion.
The procurement process for phase two has begun, while passengers are expected to begin board trains from phase one stations next year.