If members of the embattled Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board still had any doubts about how much their unethical and secretive behavior has eroded public confidence in their continued stewardship, those doubts were dispelled Tuesday. In an unusually caustic letter signed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, MWAA board members were given a laundry list of reforms that "must be instituted immediately." They were also ordered to cooperate fully with the new federal accountability officer specifically assigned to monitor them.
"It has become clear that MWAA's policies and procedures are deficient and lack the safeguards necessary to ensure the principled oversight of nationally and regionally significant assets," including the two federally owned airports in Northern Virginia and the Silver Line Metro project, the letter pointedly stated.
The list included termination of all sweetheart contracts, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, handed to MWAA's former board members and employees without competitive bidding, as first reported by The Washington Examiner. The letter voiced "grave concerns" over nepotism, conflicts of interest, expense account padding and MWAA's continuing lack of transparency and accountability.
Within hours of this public spanking, MWAA abruptly canceled most of its no-bid contracts with former board colleagues, and Board Chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter issued a joint statement promising to clean up their act. But they didn't cancel a $180,000-a-year no-bid consulting contract with former Board Chairwoman Mame Reiley or a $197,000 contract for advice on "ethics issues" with former Board Secretary Gregory Wolfe.
We remind readers that when The Examiner raised these issues months ago, MWAA officials initially denied allegations of wrongdoing, and then resisted all of the reforms now demanded in this letter. They are cleaning up their act for the simple reason that they got caught.
"By statute, MWAA is a pubic body, managing and operating important federal assets, and the Board of Directors is expected to conduct its business with the utmost integrity and with continuous regard for the public it serves," the letter noted. By defending the indefensible and exhibiting the opposite of dedicated public service, MWAA board members have squandered the public's trust, and no amount of backtracking or sweet-talking now will get it back.