Dulles board abruptly cancels insider contracts

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Photo - The board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is under scrutiny. (Examiner file photo)
The board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is under scrutiny. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The embattled airports board overseeing the $6 billion Dulles Rail project announced Tuesday that it was canceling all contracts with former board members after a series of reports in The Washington Examiner about insider deals prompted an outcry among local, state and federal officials.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which has always defended the insider contracts to The Examiner, abruptly announced it was ending its long-standing practice and would consider a new ethics policy at its next meeting.

The authority is canceling contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with former board members who, in exchange for the money, audited airports activities, lobbied the state legislature on behalf of the authority or, in one case, helped arrange for the ongoing shipment of flowers from Ethiopia to Washington Dulles International Airport.

Former Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority officials who got jobs or contracts with the authority, all exclusively reported by The Washington Examiner.
-Mame Reiley: Resigned for health reasons in February, hired a day later as a "senior adviser" at $180,000 a year plus benefits.
-Jeffrey Thompson: Linked to an illicit shadow campaign that benefited D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in 2010. His firm got nearly $1 million in contracts after he left the board.
-Bob Calhoun: The former state senator has so far earned $175,000 as a lobbyist for the authority.
-Kenneth Klinge: The Republican operative earned more than $105,000 as a lobbyist for the authority.
-Leonard Manning: Awarded a $42,000 no-bid contract to help import flowers from Ethiopia.
-Gregory Wolfe: The former board secretary advises the board on ethics issues under a series of contracts, including one for $197,000.

The authority, however, is taking no immediate action on the deal it struck with former board member Mame Reiley. The Examiner first reported that the Virginia representative resigned from the board in February because of health issues -- she has cancer -- and the next day was hired by the authority as a $180,000-a-year adviser.

Authority officials said Reiley's situation would be part of its debate over the new ethics policy at their September meeting.

The authority also did not immediately cancel a contract with former board Secretary Gregory Wolfe, who is a former employee, not a board member. Wolfe advises the board on ethics issues under a series of contracts, including one for $197,000.

The authority's announcement came just a few hours after Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray jointly issued a scathing rebuke of the airports authority and insisted it change the way it does business. Their demands of the authority included canceling all contracts with former board members.

"We are outraged by ongoing reports describing questionable dealings, including the award of numerous lucrative no-bid contracts to former board members and employees and the employment of former board members," the officials said in a letter to the authority.

Board Chairman Michael Curto and CEO Jack Potter issued a joint statement Tuesday saying the authority is already instituting some of the changes recommended by federal investigators in May.

"We acknowledge the concerns of the secretary of transportation, our elected officials and others," they said, "and we are committed to restoring public trust wherever it is lost and to earning and assuring the confidence of the people we serve."

Airport officials will meet with LaHood to discuss those reforms even as Virginia leaders, among the authority's harshest critics, remained skeptical of its pledge to change.

"Right now it's words. What we need is action," Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said of the authority's announcement. "It seems like every time the spotlight falls off MWAA, they go back to their old ways."

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said that despite the authority's pledge he will continue to push legislation that would restructure the regional authority and put Virginia in charge of it.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner