Airport Authority Investigated
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 02:11
The authority that manages Washington, D.C., airports was condemned for corrupt contracting and hiring practices in a report released Nov. 1 by the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
According to the report, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has awarded a disproportionately high number of contacts in an uncompetitive fashion in recent years. The authority failed to facilitate appropriate competition for almost two-thirds of high-value contracts for legal, financial and other services it awarded between January 2009 and June 2011. The inspector general’s report said that these practices lack accountability and are in violation of MWAA’s own Airports Act, which mandates a series of best practices for contracting and hiring processes.
“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,” Michael Curto, MWAA chairman, stated at a Nov. 1 news conference.
The MWAA operates both Reagan National and Dulles International Airports, as well as the Dulles Toll Road that links the airport to the city.
In addition, the inspector general’s office found that many new employees did not have appropriate background checks, allowing employees with known criminal offenses to work in management positions for over a year.
The report further criticized the authority for hiring non-student employees as student interns to bypass required screening. Additionally, MWAA Vice President of Human Resources Arl B. Williams was found to have secured top positions for his relatives, including one who failed an MWAA background check.
The report also claims that George R. Ellis, MWAA vice president for information and telecommunications systems, and his staff have received 46 gifts worth a total of $12,000. The report also showed that contractors started working before their contracts were approved at least 17 times in the same period of investigation.
The infractions cited in the report, however, are not new problems for the MWAA. A federal report in March 2002 and an interim report in May 2012 also cited issues with hiring and contracting in the authority.
In addition, The Washington Post reported Oct. 25 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a probe into the authority’s practices related to its oversight of the $5.6 billion Dulles Corridor Rail Project, an addition to the D.C. Metro Network intended to link the airport with the District by 2016.
While the November report acknowledged that MWAA has begun to make progress on the malpractice identified in the May interim report, it stressed that several problems remain outstanding.
Kimberly Gibbs, MWAA assistant media relations manager, emphasized the company’s focus on the current violations rather than how past violations have affected the company.
“We’re focused on the current report and implementing its recommendations,” she said.
Curto added in the press conference that the organization has already begun to address the problems identified in the May interim report.
According to Gibbs, the new initiatives include changes to MWAA’s bylaws, freedom of information policy, travel policy and code of ethics.
“The new policy bars directors and members of their families from being employed by, or having contracts with, the authority during their terms and for two years thereafter. In addition, it expands the financial disclosures to be made annually by directors and employees, strengthens the rules against nepotism, tightens the rules relating to the solicitation and acceptance of gifts and defines the obligations of directors and employees when faced with conflicts of interests,” a Nov. 1 WMAA press release stated.
Gibbs also recognized the impact of the report on public opinion of the authority.
“We will use this report as a tool in expanding and enhancing our work to increase transparency, strengthen governance and build renewed public trust,” she said. “We take all the issues and concerns cited in the report very seriously and will respond to all of the report’s recommendations.”