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MWAA still struggles with accountability, illicit spending says OIG

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Managers and board members of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority have hired family members, given undue bonuses and accepted more than 45 gifts from vendors including tickets to 25 major sporting events like Major League Baseball games and the 2009 Super Bowl, says the Transportation Department office of inspector general.

In a report (.pdf) dated Nov. 1, the OIG says it found ethics abuses to be commonplace for hiring and contracting.

Managers awarded "awarded excessive salaries, unjustified hiring bonuses, questionable cash awards, and ineligible benefits," which includes a former board of directors member that was temporarily given a job with an $180,000 annual salary and no job duties. Other employees were hired as student interns in order to avoid screenings like background checks.

While it is required to competitively award contracts worth more than $200,000, OIG says MWAA still uses exceptions to limit competition for two-thirds of the contracts exceeding that amount. The exceptions did not meet requirements for justifications, says OIG, so MWAA should report all of its acquisitions and contract awards to both its Board and the DoT for oversight.

One such contract was also awarded to a contractor that employed a board member's spouse.

While the OIG report accuses no individual of a crime, an authority spokesperson confirmed Nov. 2 that authority officials have been subpoenaed by the FBI.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority manages Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport under a deal with the DOT. MWAA is also responsible for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, with a total $5.6 billion budget.

While MWAA recently implemented a code of ethics for employees and board members, OIG says it may not ensure credibility and the integrity of management when it takes effect on Jan. 1.

The report says new ethics and hiring regulations should be enacted to restrict and specify MWAA hiring practices, which have previously allowed managers to hire candidates in positions with no job descriptions, competition, or background checks.

The Washington Post reports that Jack Potter, who took over as president and chief executive of the authority one month after the inspector general's investigation began in June 2011, said 10 employees have been fired or disciplined for infractions that are listed in the report.

OIG's final recommendation is for MWAA to develop practices that ensure the accountability of its Board, which may include additional oversight under its contract with the DoT. "MWAA has not been able to hold its Board accountable to the same standards it holds its employees," writes the OIG.

The Office of the Secretary of Transportation told auditors that it would work with MWAA to develop a plant to address the report recommendations.The MWAA said in a Nov.1 statement that has already taken steps to address some of the problems identified in the report.

MWAA said it has put a travel and gift oversight policy into place, terminated all non-competed contracts involving former board members, revised the management of its Student Employment Program and changed its bylaws to increase transparency, among other steps. 

For concerns that have not been addressed, Potter said, "we need to have the details and facts to be sure we have a fair and accurate assessment of the findings" and asked the OIG to provide those to the MWAA.

For more:
download the full report (.pdf)
read MWAA's response

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