Critics of the authority overseeing the $6 billion Dulles Rail project say the agency is addressing problems its had with nepotism, contracting improprieties and secrecy -- even as officials disclosed further evidence of nepotism and the agency refused to publicly disclose key details of internal audits.
"We have worked hard with public and private stakeholders to tackle some of the challenges at [the airports authority]," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Wednesday. "I have confidence in the chairman. I have confidence in the current board. I have confidence in the current staff."
LaHood demanded cleanup of improprieties at the airports authority last year following revelations of insider deals and he appointed a federal watchdog to monitor changes the authority is making to its ethics, travel and contracting rules.
The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that a former airports executive helped create a contract that paid his wife and daughter nearly $200,000 -- an instance of nepotism not reported by the federal inspector general appointed by LaHood. That executive, Arl Williams, is under investigation by the FBI, Examiner sources say.
Authority CEO Jack Potter told the board members that an agencywide review of personnel found that at least one manager was supervising a relative, but that the problem had been corrected. Authority's rules say that employees cannot hire or supervise relatives.
Potter said he's hopeful that the authority has corrected the "culture of favoritism" and nepotism found by a federal inspector general late last year.
"We're going to work very hard to make sure that's the case," Potter said. "Our policy does not say you cannot have a relative at MWAA. ... We've gone above and beyond what anyone else does when it comes to trying to make sure we are in compliance with our policies."
At the request of the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general, the airports authority on Wednesday disclosed its internal audits publicly for the first time. Still, key details of those audits, including how much money was lost by parking garage cashiers and names of contractors who had failed to meet authority standards, were not revealed. A staff member offered to detail some of that information in a closed-door board meeting.
An MWAA spokesman said the authority's audit team would not disclose "vendor proprietary information" or "information security" in public, and that its audits are focused on managing risk, not calculating specific figures of loss.
Also on Wednesday, LaHood swore in two new federal members to the airports board, Boston lawyer William Shaw McDermott and former New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells. A new D.C. representative, union leader Joslyn Williams, also joined the board.
"These new members," LaHood said, "are the key to ensuring the improvements that have already been put in place and others to come."