Dulles Rail board denounced as 'dysfunctional'

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Federal and state officials denounced the authority in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project as "dysfunctional" this week after learning the board provided a lucrative employment contract to one of its own departing members.

The sharp denunciations followed The Washington Examiner's report Monday that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority hired board member Mame Reiley as a $180,000-a-year "senior adviser" the day after Reiley announced in February that she was resigning from the authority for health reasons.

"This news is outrageous," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in a statement to The Examiner. "The department is currently exploring all options to put an end to any preferential treatment -- real or perceived -- shown to board insiders."

LaHood's office found widespread problems with the airports authority's spending and contracting practices during an earlier investigation conducted after Virginia officials raised concerns about the authority's management of the Dulles Rail project, the nation's largest public works program now underway. LaHood also recently appointed an "accountability officer" to oversee the authority's operations.

Virginia officials, who have battling the airports authority over a variety of issues, including the seating of Virginia board members and the authority's support for the use of union labor on the rail project, also expressed dismay over the deal struck with the state's own representative to the board.

"At practically every turn, a majority of the MWAA board seems determined to undermining the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of the authority and its decision-making," Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said. "It may be time to begin a serious dialogue about the future of MWAA and its current governance structure."

The deal with Reiley is just the latest example of the authority's generosity with former board members. Other departing officials have been awarded no-bid contracts, including one to help bring shipments of flowers from Ethiopia to Washington Dulles International Airport. A federal investigation of the authority also raised questions about board members' lavish international travels.

"I think the airports authority is dysfunctional," Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said. "The abuse of public trust is rampant. Frankly, I think the airports authority ought to be completely revamped."

"Aren't they embarrassed at the activity that's taking place?" Wolf said.

An MWAA spokesman declined to comment.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner