Should Congress’s power extend to creating taxpayer-funded government entities that are free from state and federal laws concerning ethics, transparency, and disclosure? No, but it does, and for Virginia residents, it is their reality.
The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA), which is in charge of the $6 billion construction of the Dulles Metrorail extension, is such an entity. MWAA’s lack of both accountability and transparency to the public, in combination with its imprudent spending, raised concerns from federal, state, and local government officials. Arising from their calls is an ongoing investigation into the MWAA’s governance and management. The Department of Transportation's Inspector General report gave merit to government officials' concerns, uncovering numerous violations including issuing unauthorized contracts, improper expenses by Board members, and an overall lack of transparency.
The Washington Examiner reports MWAA improprieties in detail:
- Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board members recently racked up inappropriate expenses, including $4,800 for three Hawaiian dinners, $238 for two bottles of wine, and $9,200 for a last-minute airline ticket to Prague.
- A board member recommended the law firm where his wife is employed for a $100,000 contract. The firm got the contract.
- Board members charged the authority for at least six first-class airline tickets one year without proper authorization.
- The authority's financial disclosure requirements are too weak to identify all potential conflicts of interest.
- The authority shrouded its activity with "an inappropriate use of closed sessions." Even a recent discussion of enhancing transparency was closed to the public.
- The authority awarded about $6 million in no-bid contracts over two and a half years, even though none of the contracts fell under special rules allowing limited competition.
- The airports authority never fixed contracting problems pointed out in 2002 by federal auditors.
There is no light at the end of the tunnel regarding ending MWAA’s excessive waste of tax funds or penalties for offending Board members. MWAA originated from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Act of 1986. Congress, in agreement with Virginia and the District of Columbia, conferred power and jurisdiction to MWAA. It operates as an independent government entity solely to improve the metropolitan Washington airports. MWAA’s unique self-governing status removes federal and state government oversight protections that defend the public from opportunistic bureaucrats.
In fact, Virginia and the Federal government provide an array of remedies for ethics, transparency and contract violations occurring in government, Congress simply must apply the existing law to MWAA. However, congressional action in unlikely and will not be quick. To combat MWAA’s special privilege status, Virginians must demand its tax dollars no longer fund a government entity that does not serve the public interest, its supposed only purpose.