Dulles Rail board spends nearly $1m studying itself

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Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

The authority in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project, already under fire for wasteful spending and questionable contracting practices, is paying nearly $1 million for an "organizational study" that cost twice as much as expected and proposed few new initiatives beyond starting an employee newsletter.

The study done for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority mainly recommended tweaking programs the authority already had, like changing where employees should go to submit their suggestions for improving the workplace.

A day after the authority was faulted by federal investigators for its inappropriate expenses, secrecy and use of no-bid contracts, board members met behind closed to discuss the organizational study, which was awarded to a local consulting firm without a full competitive bidding process.

The organizational study was singled out by federal investigators last week as an example of the authority's mismanagement of contracts. Airports authority leaders cited their "urgent need" for the organizational study when they issued the contract without real competition in September 2010, but by last week it still wasn't finished -- "a delay of more than 12 months from its scheduled due date," federal investigators said.

Instead of allowing others to bid for the organizational study in an open competition, the authority simply awarded the contract to L&L Consulting, the same firm that wrote the proposal for bidders -- a proposal that included a recommendation for how much the authority should spend on it. Airports officials said they needed the study done quickly because they were already looking for a new CEO and wanted it done by the time that person started work.

The board signed a contract with L&L Consulting for up to $885,000, even though the authority's initial estimated cost for the study was $500,000.

"I think people on the board felt comfortable that this was a very solid firm," said authority board member Bob Brown. "They handled themselves very well in their dealings with board."

Authority members defended their handling of the organizational study, saying it was needed because the last one was done in 1997.

"It's just really taking a look at the organization, not to say there were problems to be fixed," said authority board Secretary Quince Brinkley.

The airports board first came under fire from Virginia officials when it insisted on building an underground station at Washington Dulles International Airport for Metro's new Silver Line, even though it cost $300 million more than an aboveground station. Though the authority eventually agreed to build the aboveground station, state and local officials continued to complain that the authority was "dysfunctional."

Airports authority CEO Jack Potter promised to tighten ethics policies and contracting rules after the inspector general's report was released last week.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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