A congressional committee grilled representatives of the embattled Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Friday on recent findings of a federal audit that showed that nepotism and shady contracting practices were rampant at the authority, which oversees the $6 billion Dulles Rail project and Reagan National and Dulles airports.
"It's a sad day for metropolitan Washington. It's also a sad day for advocates of developing good transportation policies in the nation's capital and the surrounding region," said Rep. John Mica, R-Florida and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which held the oversight hearing. He added that the airports authority was "becoming a poster child" for corruption.
But airports authority leaders said they were already determined to "clean house" and have started reforming the authority's ethics, travel and contracting practices. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said he was also confident the authority was changing its ways.
"There is a lot of fresh blood. They have a new CEO and president, and I think he's done an excellent job," LaHood said.
LaHood credited an article in The Washington Examiner for motivating him to demand reform at the airports agency. The article detailed the hiring of a former board member for a $180,000-per-year job the day after she resigned from the board for health reasons.
"When I read the article I couldn't believe it. To me that was the tip of the iceberg," LaHood said.
But CEO Jack Potter admitted to the committee that some relatives of board members still work at MWAA, that they may continue to work there, and that he had "not good" judgment when he hired the former board member.
By the end of the hearing, some committee members remained unimpressed with the reform efforts.
"To be honest with you gentlemen, I have a supreme lack of confidence in your board. If it was up to me, I would dissolve the board," said Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minnesota.