By Peter Galuszka

Many years ago, I started my first journalism job at a daily newspaper in a small town in North Carolina. It was a pleasant, sleepy place where the dominant clans were the Alligoods and the Woolards. If they married, they were known as “Wooligoods.”

When you looked at the lists of employees of anything from the sheriff’s department to the court offices to the local businesses, there were plenty of similar names and lots of family ties. Sorting them out would give a genealogist a headache. There was nothing crooked about it, though. It was just the way it was.

Nonetheless, it does seem unusual that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, a major public entity in the capital of the Western world, has an employee roster that evokes images of Andy, Aunt Bea and Mayberry.

According to a recent Washington Post story, hiring family members is so rampant at the authority it is the norm. The Kulle family, The Post says, has a mother working there, her son and daughter, the children’s spouses and her daughter-in-law’s brother. The total pay of the Kulle clan was about $400,000 last year, not including any extra compensation.

It is just another in a long series of questionable practices at MWAA, set up in 1985 to oversee Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and part of the Dulles Access Highway. The authority is overseeing part of the extension of Metrorail to Dulles and operates maintenance, police and fire services. Its 17-member board includes members picked by the governor of Virginia, the D.C. mayor, the Maryland governor and the president.

MWAA, budgeted at $2 billion, has taken an oversized amount of fire recently. The inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed a few months ago that MWAA employees were given treats such as Super Bowl tickets and trips to Hilton Head Island by contractors. One board member, Douglas Martire, was forced off the board amid questions about high-priced travel and other matters.

True, some of the controversies smack of politics. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell clearly made a case against Martire both because he is a former union official and a pick made by former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, who ran successfully for the U.S. Senate against McDonnell ally George Allen.

But you still have to ask why this is all happening. I’m not as familiar with Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport, run as an exclusively Maryland show. But you never seem to hear the level of complaints about BWI as you do about MWAA.

The problem is that MWAA was set up as a kind of amorphous “authority” without clear ethical guidelines or chains of command. The board only answers to various governors and the president and that can get rather squishy. One solution would be to dissolve the current MWAA, remake its structure and start over. Doing so would be time consuming, but one has to ask what the dire reasons were for forming MWAA nearly 30 years ago.

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3 responses to “Is It Time to Get Rid of the MWAA?”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is an interstate compact that seems to work fine. The Port Authority owns far more in assets than MWAA and makes it all work. The fact that the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond working in conjunction with the Democratic Disaster in the District can’t get their act together is just “par for the course”.

    Here is a short bio for Mame Reiley – a Tim Kaine appointment to the MWAA board:

    “Mary “Mame” Reiley is president of The Reiley Group, a consulting, fundraising and events communication agency. She is a veteran political organizer in the Democratic Party who moves between Virginia and national political circles.”

    Here is the bio for H. Sidney Holmes III, a Port Authority Commissioner who I picked at random from the list of commissioners (because he had a “Richmond name”):

    “Mr. H. Sidney Holmes, III is a Corporate Partner of Winston & Strawn LLP. Mr. Holmes works in the area of public finance. Mr. Holmes has served as bond counsel, underwriter’s counsel, and bank counsel in virtually every type of municipal bond financing throughout the United States and its territories. He has extensive experience in industrial and economic development revenue bond financing. He has served as counsel on hospital facilities financings, solid waste disposal facilities financings, electric generating facilities financings, cogeneration facilities financings, transportation facilities financings, and sports facilities financings. Mr. Holmes has represented a number of foreign and domestic banks as credit and liquidity providers of municipal debt. He has served as bond counsel, bank counsel, and counsel to the underwriters in transactions involving variable rate bonds, swaps, and other derivative products. His representative clients include state and local governmental agencies and major financial institutions. Mr. Holmes is a Vietnam-era veteran and served in the U.S. Army Finance Corps. Prior to attending law school, Mr. Holmes co-founded a chain of health and beauty aid discount stores. Mr. Holmes has been Board of Commissioner of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since May 2008. Mr. Holmes is a Commissioner of the New York State Insurance Fund and a board member of the New York Urban League, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. Mr. Holmes received a B.A. from Columbia University and a J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law.”.

    Any board is only as good as the people appointed to it.

  2. aw DJ.. I wish you hadn’t done that…..

    Port Authority Execs Collect $2M in Hidden Pay

  3. Whether we get rid of MWAA or not, somebody needs to call out the Dulles Rail cost estimators and have them justify their double-priced estimates for the Dulles Rail – Silver Line Metrorail project. Paying a double price on a project this size is very bad – and then we have to pay finance charges on the huge pile of money that we have to borrow to PAY the double price. Not good!

    We are talking about the same MWAA that the US DOT Inspector General says was FUNNELING contracts to the mysterious “Contractor A” at 1.3 to 3.3 times what other contractors were charging for the same work. That’s not a typo – 1.3 to 3.3 times what other contractors were charging for the same work. So they did that sort of thing routinely. Why is it difficult to believe that the Dulles Rail project could be double priced as well?

    Do a web search on ‘ The excessive pricing of the Dulles Rail – Silver Line Metrorail project ‘ and you can read about those double prices.

    Don’t believe a double price is possible? Do a web search on ‘ MWAA’s Weak Policies and Procedures Have Led to Questionable Procurement Practices, Mismanagement, and a Lack of Overall Accountability ‘ and you can read all about “Contractor A” in the US DOT Inspector General’s audit of MWAA, where MWAA was FUNNELING contracts to a mysterious “Contractor A” at 1.3 to 3.3 times what other contractors charged for the same work. That’s not a typo – 1.3 to 3.3 times what other contractors charged for the same work! It’s on Page 14 of the report (page 15 of the pdf).

    Why is this story buried in article comments in every single news publication? You tell me. I say it’s being covered up by every single news source. Now, why would that happen? Hmmm? Wait – a double price on a $5.6 billion to $6 Billion job gives somebody about 3 Billion reasons to cover it up, doesn’t it. Yes, it does.

    By the way, there is another US DOT audit going on – the audit of Dulles Rail Phase II that was announced on March 15, 2012, but somehow this was also never reported in any news publication. That’s pretty interesting too. Do a web search on ‘ Audit Initiated of Phase 2 of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project ‘ and you can find it on the DOT GOV website. Or you can ignore it, as somebody wants you to do.

    And the situation is even worse than that. WMATA needs $13.1 Billion for deferred maintenance and capital needs. Soon they will be at the gates, looking for that money. Isn’t that just great.

    So yes, straighten out MWAA. But don’t be blinded by MWAA’s silly Board and Officer games, while much bigger ripoffs are going on. Call out the cost estimators and have them explain their double priced estimates too. OK?

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