International diplomacy is important -- so important, in fact, that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is pitching in, at great cost, to support the State Department's mission.
Last month, The Examiner's Liz Essley reported that the MWAA paid $20,000 to send three officials to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2010. Board member H.R. Crawford said it was part of their official duties. "You can't sit out there in Virginia and not travel," he said. "That's one of the purposes of the authority -- you have to be acquainted with what's going on in the industry."
That getting-to-know-you session included a three-day stay at a luxury hotel and an event to celebrate Ethiopia Airlines' purchase of a Boeing 777 -- and for $20,000, we hope the accommodations were spectacular. Crawford explained that because the Ethiopian government invited them, "[i]t would have been totally disrespectful not to have attended." Given that Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan skipped the weddings of British royals during their terms, we now see just how seriously the MWAA takes its international social obligations.
Heaven forbid the MWAA should offend Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Giorgis. But as MWAA board members splurged on trips to Rio de Janeiro, Prague, Tel Aviv, Israel, Sardinia, Italy, and Hawaii (twice) in 2010 and 2011, did anyone worry about offending the D.C. air travelers who pay for this well-traveled governing body, or the taxpayers and toll-payers who are supporting its rail project?
Essley reported Monday that the MWAA has been spending $200,000 a year on travel. Other major metropolitan airport authorities get the job done with travel budgets one-tenth that size or even less. The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey doesn't have a travel budget, and it seems to do all right on the international front.
Is there some other reason why the MWAA does this? Possibly. One of the board members on the Ethiopia trip was Leonard Manning. Months after he left the board in 2011, he was awarded a $42,000 no-bid contract to deliver Ethiopian flowers to Washington Dulles International Airport, thanks to his Ethiopian contacts. Funny how these things work out.
In any event, the MWAA should probably cut back on its diplomatic mission. The next time it gets an invite from President Wolde-Giorgis, it should reply with polite regrets only.