Chastised Dulles Rail board cuts back dramatically on travel

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

After months of rebukes from Virginia and federal officials for spending lavishly on their own global travel, board members of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority now hardly ever travel, and none of them has returned to the kind of exotic locales that first got them in trouble.

The chastised authority board, which oversees two airports and construction of the $6 billion Metrorail line to Washington Dulles International Airport, spent less than a quarter of the $260,000 it budgeted for travel in 2012 and reduced its travel budget by 31 percent for 2013, down to $180,000.

The changes follow state and federal rebukes for the authority's expensive travel to exotic destinations with pricey extras -- including a $9,200 last-minute plane ticket to Prague, $4,800 for three dinners in Hawaii and $238 for two bottles of wine. The lavish spending, once encouraged by the airports authority, led to Virginia's attempted ouster of Dennis Martire, a board member who spent $9,500 traveling to Sardinia, Italy, for a conference on small European airports.

The authority responded to the criticism by banning all foreign trips in May. Since enacting a new travel policy and lifting the ban in September, only one board member took a trip. D.C. representative Warner Session traveled to Houston in December for a forum hosted by the Airport Minority Advisory Council, according to airports spokesman Rob Yingling.

Tom Davis, a Virginia representative to the authority, said he expects travel spending to remain low.

"You have a new board committed to MWAA and not committed to the perks of being on a board," Davis said. "We're getting less travel and more work out of them."

Authority officials had defended board members' travel, saying the industry conferences help them run Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

A 2010 document obtained by The Washington Examiner shows board members were welcome to attend a long list of conferences in places like Istanbul, London and Malaysia. The document recommended that board members simply identify which conferences they wanted to attend so that the authority could make arrangements for them.

Martire, who left the board voluntarily after Gov. Bob McDonnell tried to oust him, said the conferences help board members to understand the airport industry.

"There's not one board member, including all the new board members, that has an ounce of aviation experience," he said. "The only way board members can make educated decisions about what's best for the two airports in Washington is to see what other airports are doing."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner