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Feds, state demand changes at Dulles Rail board

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Photo - The under-construction Silver Line. (Examiner file photo)
The under-construction Silver Line. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Federal and state officials who have derided the board in charge of the $6 billion Dulles Rail project as dysfunctional and irresponsible are preparing to ask the board to revamp virtually everything about how it does business, from awarding no-bid contracts to spending lavishly on its members' travel.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is joining with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to demand that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority "get their act together," LaHood said Monday.

In a separate action Monday, a Virginia judge ruled that McDonnell could not immediately replace a union executive, Dennis Martire, whom he ousted from the airports authority. Though the matter is in court, McDonnell sought to immediately replaced Martire. The judge ruled against the governor, though a final ruling on Martire's expulsion won't come until later this year.

Federal and state officials are insisting that the airports authority revamp the way it does business at the same time that Virginia, led by Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, is threatening to restructure the entire authority and take control of the regional board.

LaHood has not discussed that more drastic measure with Wolf, who agreed that "things need to be done differently" at the authority, which is overseeing the largest public works program in the country.

Officials are concerned that the authority's financial management problems, its lax ethical standards and its proliferation of no-bid contracts -- including to its own former members -- could damage not only the Silver Line project, but operations at the airports that the board oversees, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International, LaHood said.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said Wolf's proposed legislation shows "we're all extremely frustrated" with the authority, noting that its leaders "say the right things," but have yet to correct problems that local, state and federal officials have repeatedly cited.

"Their actions speak louder than words," Connaughton said.

Connaughton is helping draft the letter that LaHood and the region's leaders plan to send to the authority to insist that it correct its "consistent culture of unaccountability."

"The authority has been charged with overseeing some of the most important aspects of the Washington region ... but they haven't acted responsibly," Connaughton said. "Hopefully, this [letter] will lead to changes to how they operate and make the board more accountable."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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