Dulles Rail board ignored warnings of nepotism

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Photo - (Examiner file photo)
(Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Nepotism at the embattled Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority was so widespread that employees were warning leaders about it nearly two years before a federal inspector general blasted the authority for its "culture of favoritism," The Washington Examiner has learned.

But airports leaders did little to stop the problem until a Department of Transportation inspector general publicly reprimanded the authority for its practices in a report released earlier this month.

A congressional committee is prepared on Friday to grill officials from the airports authority, which oversees Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan National airports, as well as the $6 billion Dulles Rail project.

Anonymous employee comments gathered in a December 2010 revealed extensive management issues at the authority --among them nepotism and cronyism -- long before a federal inspector general cited the authority for the problems.
Among the comments:
- "Hire more qualified persons instead of 'friends & family.' "
- "STOP the corruption of: favoritism, discrimination, hiring/advancement of 'unqualified' personnel [...] top management/VPs having board members 'in their back pocket' for favors; COO and VP's violating laws, policies and lacking ethics and fairness."
- "Nepotism and favoritism: [...] The Vice President of Human Resources hires his own relatives and friends. Some members of the Board of Directors hire their own relatives and friends [...]"
- "It needs a severe 'culture' change... Too much of the 'good ol boy' system still going on around here."
- "There is way too much nepotism at MWAA (simply do not take my word for it and independantly [sic] look into it)."
- "Eliminate favoritism and nepotism in hiring and promotions. Hire and promote the best qualified candidates not friends or members of an inner circle."
- "EXTREMELY disappointed in the integrity, quality and management practices of the Airports Authority. I've worked for other government entities and have found this employer to not only be severely dysfunctional, but riddled with too much abuse with those in power/authority, whether it is discrimination, ethics violations, employment practices or favoritism."
- "The Vice President of Human Resources [and another official] do not follow the policies and practices they set for the Airports Authority. [...] They're perceived by many as lacking integrity."

On Wednesday, authority board member H.R. Crawford unapologetically told reporters that referring friends and relatives for jobs at the authority was "standard operating procedure" when he joined the organization a decade ago.

Employees complained about the cronyism and its blow to their morale in a December 2010 survey -- results of which were presented to the airports authority's board in early 2011.

"The Authority is morally bankrupt when it comes to nepotism in employment and contracts," wrote one employee in the anonymous comments, according to documents viewed by The Washington Examiner. The airports authority would not release the survey comments, saying the study was still a "draft."

"There is a serious ethics problem at the Airports Authority -- there is favoritism in hiring, promotions, performance appraisals, bonuses, cash awards, contracting, etc.," wrote another employee. "Even this organizational study is suspected by many of being crooked. Many people are afraid to speak up. An outside investigation BY A GOVERNMENT AGENCY is needed."

Still more scathing comments came from authority workers: "STOP the corruption of: favoritism, discrimination, hiring/advancement of 'unqualified' personnel," wrote one. "Force executive level management to observe, promote and lead by example MWAA's ethics and policies that have been established and stop the nepotism and favoritism," wrote another.

Several commenters singled out the vice president of human resources, Arl Williams, for hiring friends and relatives. Williams declared his retirement the day before the recent inspector general's report blamed him for hiring one relative -- despite a failed background check -- and supervising another.

As a result of the survey and the associated study -- which the airports authority awarded in a no-bid, $885,000 contract to a D.C. firm with connections to Crawford -- the airports authority revised a tool that measures employee performance and "improved employee communications," a spokesman said.

But employees hired by relatives stayed on, and in summer 2011, four relatives of board members, including one of Crawford's granddaughters, were hired in a student summer employment program.

It wasn't until after an interim inspector general's report in May that the authority started revising ethics policies and the student program guidelines.

"Additional reforms are in progress and will be reported publicly on a regular basis. The Airports Authority will continue to review its practices and procedures to reflect best practices of government and industry," airports spokesman Rob Yingling said in an email.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner