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Column: Shaping Up the MWAA Board

Recently I attended a briefing for elected officials arranged by Congressmen Connolly and Wolf on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) review of the management and governance of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) as had been requested by Congressman Wolf. Such a periodic review is desirable because MWAA was created by an Act of Congress that established a compact between Virginia and the District of Columbia to operate Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan National Airport, the Dulles Toll Road, and construction of the Silver Line. MWAA serves multiple masters, and an independent review of its operations is important for all stakeholders and the region. The decisions made by the MWAA Board of Directors have a great impact on many people in the region.

Since MWAA undertook responsibility for the two airports in 1986, it has advanced the level of air service immeasurably. An undersized and outdated terminal at Reagan National was replaced with a sleek, modern, and efficient terminal. The iconic Terminal at Dulles designed by Eero Saarinen was tripled in size while maintaining its historic design. Transport buses that must have seemed modern and efficient when they were introduced have for the most part been replaced with an underground people-mover system. The success of MWAA in handling large contracts suggested it as being able to supervise and construct the Silver Line in the Dulles Corridor. Phase I will be open within less than a year and a half. The financing plan for Phase II is now being negotiated. The Commonwealth of Virginia did not have the capacity to manage such a large project without the help of MWAA.

One of the findings of the OIG review to date of projected toll revenues is that they appear reasonable. Some had predicted much greater toll increases than are likely or necessary. The interim review raises questions about actions taken by some MWAA board members. As described in the interim report, a few members have shown very poor judgment. Policies and procedures need to be tightened to ensure that actions of a few do not distract from the good work done by so many others. With the very different masters MWAA has in the federal government, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is imperative that the MWAA Board adopt the most stringent policies on transparency, procurement, and conflicts of interest of any of its three masters in order to show good faith as stewards of public funds.

We cannot let the actions of a few Board members take away from the good work of many. The MWAA Board needs to shape up itself and maintain public confidence. The work of its staff on the two airport terminals and on Phase I certainly has the admiration of many of us.