Dulles Rail board member H.R. Crawford defends nepotism

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Photo - The under-construction Dulles Rail line. (Examiner file photo)
The under-construction Dulles Rail line. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

With congressional watchdogs set to grill Dulles Rail officials on contracting and hiring practices that are under scrutiny by the FBI, at least one board member remained defiant about giving family members agency jobs.

H.R. Crawford, a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board, admitted he has referred a friend of his family who is also a tenant, as well as his daughter-in-law, for jobs at the airports authority. He felt sorry for the tenant because her grandchild was on one of the planes hijacked on 9/11, he said.

"I am guilty of that. And guess what? I would do it again," he said.

Crawford said about 30 to 40 percent of past board members also had relatives with jobs at the authority and that he felt singled out by a recent federal inspector general's report.

"Now if that's a crime, I think a whole lot of us in this room ought to check ourselves," he said.

Crawford's remarks came during a meeting of the board, at which members voted to raise fares on the Dulles Toll Road by 50 cents beginning Jan. 1.

The board's actions have drawn increased scrutiny in recent months after a series of articles in The Washington Examiner and the federal inspector general's report exposed a variety of management abuses. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is slated to hold a hearing on MWAA's troubles on Friday.

The recent report by the federal Department of Transportation's inspector general blasted the MWAA for nepotism, faulty contracting practices and other problems. The FBI has opened an inquiry into some of the authority's practices.

Before Crawford spoke out on nepotism, board Chairman Michael Curto noted that the authority had already passed new ethics policies to address that and other concerns raised by the inspector general's report. "We take all the issues and concerns in this report seriously," he said.

The toll hikes are aimed at paying the $6 billion tab for constructing the new Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport.

The airports authority, which oversees both the toll road and the rail line, voted to raise the toll rates for a ride along the entire toll road from $2.25 to $2.75 starting Jan. 1 -- a rate that will go up again in 2014 to $3.50.

Officials said the increases are necessary to finance the construction of the new Metrorail line but would be less drastic in the future if Virginia or the federal government would contribute more money to the rail project.

"I would encourage everyone to write [U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood] to provide us with [federal loans], or have a flash mob, whatever it takes," airports board member Frank Conner said.

Board members warned that high tolls over the next few years could push more drivers to leave the toll road and cut through neighborhoods.

"I'm thinking that McLean, Great Falls would get hammered if we went with [even higher tolls] in 2015," said airports board member Michael O'Reilly.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner