Dulles Rail board defends its performance

Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The board overseeing the $6 billion Dulles Rail project on Wednesday defended itself against a blistering report from federal investigators who found widespread ethics and contract oversight problems within the organization.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board also sought to dispel public perceptions that it favors the use of union labor to build the rail line to Washington Dulles International Airport.

A day after federal investigators reported that the authority played fast and loose with already lax ethics standards -- racking up expenses like the $4,800 spent on three dinners in Hawaii -- MWAA officials insisted they were doing a good job overseeing the region's airports and building Metro's Silver Line.

"I take these issues very seriously," said authority Chairman Michael Curto, who was reprimanded, though not mentioned by name, by the federal investigators for recommending his wife's law firm for a no-bid contract worth $100,000. Curto denies he made the recommendation. "The [federal] report tell us we have more to do to get to the level we all want, and that's exactly how we're going to proceed. ... It is my hope and expectation that we'll be able to address most, if not all, of the issues by the time the final report is released later this summer."

One board member also sought Wednesday to defuse a dispute the board has with Virginia officials over the use of union labor on the rail project.

The authority has insisted on giving a bidding advantage to contractors who abide by a union-friendly labor agreement. Virginia officials say that violates the state's right-to-work law and threatened to withhold state funding.

Authority member Bob Brown on Wednesday offered a resolution, saying the board would treat union and nonunion contractors equally, but the proposal was put on hold after Virginia representative Tom Davis accused Brown of throwing a "grenade" into the labor debate.

"The members recognize that [they may lose the $150 million], but they also want labor protections," Davis said. "We're trying to work that all out."

Board members agreed to discuss the labor agreement in a separate special session.

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