WASHINGTON — Federal and state officials are seeking to overhaul the leadership of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority amid pending legislation that would restructure the board of the bond-issuing authority.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has joined Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray in an ongoing effort to force change at the board that operates Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Dulles Toll Road in the wake of repeated scandals that include accusations of cronyism and a lack of transparency.
LaHood revealed Friday that he met with the three local leaders early this month to discuss what to do about the MWAA board.
The meeting took place just before Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., introduced legislation that would give Virginia almost total control of the board.
Currently, the president, as well as state and district leaders appoint members of the board, which has oversight over such things as debt issuance, airport spending and toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road.
Sean Connaughton, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, said the coalition of federal and state officials is working toward reforming the board so that the public can “trust their judgement and stand behind their decisions.”
Trust has been a problem for the board, which has faced tough questions from citizens advocacy groups over the feasibility of using Dulles Toll Road revenues to back bonds financing the Washington Metrorail’s Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport. “All problems involving the airports authority stem from the board. So many problems we’re facing here,” Connaughton said.
Wolf asked the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general earlier this year to investigate conflict of interest and other allegations against MWAA. The request resulted in an IG report backing up MWAA’s position on the toll road, but slamming the board for a structure that is “insufficient for identifying and evaluating potential conflicts of interest.”
Wolf and LaHood both expressed outrage over news that the board created a $180,000 job for a former member, Mame Reiley, who resigned due to health reasons. Connaughton wouldn’t say what specific changes McDonnell’s office might want, but said the lack of accountability at the board has to end.
Despite his recent criticism of the board, LaHood has been a longtime supporter of the Dulles Rail effort and has intervened as a mediator on multiple occasions when stakeholders appeared to be headed for an impasse. He now has a dedicated staff member monitoring the board.
“In her role as MWAA watchdog, DOT attorney Kimberly Moore will ensure that the federal government’s continuing interests in the operation of the airports are protected and that MWAA’s policies and practices meet the highest standards of ethics and fiscal responsibility,” said DOT spokesman Justin Nisly.
MWAA has said it will cooperate in addressing the officials’ concerns.