Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: MWAA needs a top-to-bottom housecleaning

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Opinion,Local Editorial

The corruption at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is even more widespread than MWAA's toughest critics -- including The Washington Examiner -- could ever have imagined. After a yearlong investigation undertaken at the request of Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general's final report contains a long, stomach-turning list of unethical and improper behavior by both MWAA board members and the authority's professional staff.

As The Examiner's Liz Essley reported Friday, the long-overdue audit uncovered "a culture of favoritism" that led to abuses beyond the previously reported no-bid contracts and insider dealing that would not be tolerated in any other entity entrusted with public funds:

* Nepotism: The audit found that 21 relatives of authority executives and board members were not only hired but often given higher salaries than other employees, in violation of MWAA's own personnel rules.

* Ghost payrolling: One person who worked for an MWAA board member was hired as a "temporary worker" with no job duties and then given a $15,000 raise and promoted to full-time employment five months later.

* Criminal hires: A relative of MWAA's vice president for human resources was hired for a $135,000-a-year job managing sensitive personnel records despite having a criminal record.

* Inflated costs: Even when contracts were bid, favored contractors won, though their bids were higher than the nearest competitor's -- in one case, an eye-popping 234 percent higher.

* Conflicts of interest: MWAA employees accepted thousands of dollars' worth of gifts from contractors, including an IT vice president who was given Super Bowl tickets by a vendor.

* Favoritism: Certain favored employees got four-figure cash bonuses not justified by their job performance.

Since MWAA manages two federally owned airports in addition to the Silver Line Metrorail project, hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds are "at significant risk of fraud, waste and abuse," according to the 50-page report.

This behavior has been tolerated for years because MWAA is an independent authority and not required to follow any state or federal contracting, transparency, or ethics rules. The fact that MWAA doesn't even bother to follow its own rules shows just how impossible the current situation has become. Accountable to no one, run by a board as corrupt as the staff it oversees, this rat's nest of an agency doesn't deserve another dime of taxpayer money until Congress conducts a very thorough -- and very public -- housecleaning.

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