WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell blasted the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Thursday, calling for immediate change in the bond-issuing entity on the heels of a scathing U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General report labeling MWAA policy and procedures "weak" and "questionable."
MWAA has been under fire for years over questionable financial transparency and conflicts of interest of certain directors.
The authority has over $6 billion of outstanding bonds according to its comprehensive 2011 financial report, and is charged with overseeing two Washington-area airports and the controversial Dulles Toll Road and rail extension to the Dulles International Airport.
Officials in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have all raised concerns amid evidence that board members engaged in nepotism and other unethical practices without accountability.
The report, requested by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., followed an interim one issued in May. It confirmed some of the accusations leveled at the MWAA board by everyone from irate citizens to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, who personally interceded more than once to hold together the Dulles rail project when stakeholders, including MWAA, were on the verge of letting it fall apart.
"MWAA's code of ethics for its employees and its related policies and procedures have lacked the rigor needed to ensure credibility and the integrity of management and employee decisions," wrote Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel, 3rd. "For example, some MWAA employees regularly accepted inappropriate, high-dollar gifts from an MWAA contractor."
The report also points out serious deficiencies in MWAA's hiring and contracting policies.
"MWAA's standard hiring process for filling vacancies or creating new positions has not been formally documented as an official policy, which has allowed senior officials to place candidates into new or existing positions without job descriptions, competition, or completed background checks," Scovel wrote.
"MWAA board members and senior officials set the tone for a lax internal control culture by engaging in questionable contracting practices — including initiating work before contract award, awarding sole source contracts without proper justification, and providing non-public information that gives potential contractors an unfair advantage in competition."
The report acknowledges that some reforms, namely new travel and ethics policies for MWAA employees, have been made since May but concludes that much work remains to make the authority more transparent and accountable.
"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," wrote Scovel.
McDonnell acknowledged some progress in the past few months but insisted that the damaging evidence required immediate change to restore public faith in the authority.
"The concerns that I have expressed over the past two years are, unfortunately, validated by the U.S. DOT inspector general," McDonnell said.
"MWAA must change now. I recently announced the appointment of five new Virginia members to the board. The appointment of these service-minded, ethical individuals, combined with the progress we have made to date on reforms, present a tremendous opportunity for the MWAA board to usher in a new era of leadership and governance."
The U.S. DOT said it expects a detailed response from MWAA within 30 days.