ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — The board that governs Washington's two major airports took steps Wednesday to address complaints of cronyism and lavish spending by terminating a six-figure employment contract for a former board member and tightening its internal travel policies.
The actions Wednesday by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority come in the wake of a federal audit and criticism by federal and Virginia officials about its inner workings. The board has faced added scrutiny in recent years for its oversight of a $6 billion extension of the region's Metrorail system to Dulles International Airport.
After Wednesday's board meeting, MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter said the authority terminated a five-year contract as a senior adviser — at $180,000 a year — that had been given to former board Mame Reiley shortly after she left for health reasons.
Potter said Reiley had done valuable work for the board in helping explore ways to generate revenue from undeveloped land on airport property. But he acknowledged that hiring her was a mistake, especially since he didn't consult the board in doing so. A new ethics policy being developed for the authority would ban such contracts for former board members for two years after leaving the board.
"In hindsight it was a lapse in judgment on my part," Potter told the board.
Reiley will receive a year's worth of severance pay, as called for in her contract.
Also Wednesday, the board voted to overhaul its travel policies in the wake of a federal audit earlier this year that questioned lavish spending by board members. The audit, requested by MWAA board critic Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., criticized the board for awarding contracts without competition. It also cited excessive spending by some board members, including a $9,200 plane ticket to Prague and a $4,800 dinner bill over three nights for board members and guests on a Hawaii trip.
The new policy requires board members to get advance approval from the chairman to travel on board business. With some exceptions, it requires coach travel for domestic flights and business-class travel internationally. It limits spending on meals to $71 a day and requires receipts.
While all but one board member voted for the changes, some said the new policy is too restrictive. One board member suggested that board members should operate under a different, less restrictive policy than regular MWAA employees.
"The people sitting at this table are not working for the government," said board member Shirley Robinson Hall. "Our lifestyle is not based on the government employee lifestyle. It would be good for us to have more flexibility."
Other board members suggested that they should be allowed to fly business class domestically and that the $71 per diem could prove embarrassing for board members who need to entertain high-level business clients.
At a press conference following the meeting, board chairman Michael Curto emphasized the fact that the new policy was passed with near unanimity.
"You just got a good insight into the traditional workings of a board," Curto said. "What you heard was robust, healthy discussion."
MWAA oversees operations at Dulles and Reagan National airports, as well as the Dulles Toll Road. Commuters on that highway have been upset that increased tolls are a major source of revenue for the Metrorail expansion.