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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Silence of the MWAA wolves

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Opinion,Local Editorial

Ongoing federal investigations of the embattled Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board -- one by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general and another by the FBI -- are now focusing on insider deals that appear to be prima facie evidence of official corruption. In what universe are secret no-bid contacts (the MWAA awarded a combined $220 million of these) given to companies that employ your former colleagues, friends and relatives considered acceptable conduct for public officials? Certainly not in this universe.

MWAA board members were previously caught with their hands in the cookie jar for spending money on luxury travel, meals and other perks for themselves, but that petty corruption is dwarfed by the contracting scandal. Unaccountable to the public, disdainful of any outside demands for more transparency, MWAA board members adopted tougher new travel and ethics policies only after they were exposed and threatened with the loss of financial support for the Silver Line project.

These are all high-level political appointees who were named to the board by the president, the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of D.C. There's no way they can claim they didn't realize such behavior was wrong.

The latest revelations vindicate the Federal Transit Authority, which had such serious reservations about the MWAA's ability to successfully manage the Silver Line project that the federal agency refused to fund its second phase.

But much of the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of former Gov. Tim Kaine, now a candidate for U.S. Senate from Virginia, who in 2006 single-handedly turned over the revenue-producing Dulles Toll Road to the MWAA without the approval of the General Assembly, in order to fund the project. He thus exposed Northern Virginia taxpayers to this band of mercenary political hacks.

Although a subsequent opinion by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli affirmed Kaine's legal right to give away the toll road, that does not absolve Kaine of his appalling lack of judgment in putting the MWAA in charge of the largest public works project in the U.S. Thanks to Kaine, toll road drivers' hard-earned money was being divvied up by MWAA insiders -- including former board secretary Gregory Wolfe, who was supposedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise the MWAA on "ethics" issues. As with most professional ethicists, this one seems to have been hired to keep his mouth shut or even justify board members' feeding at the trough.

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