Leaders of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority pledged Thursday to use an audit by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to further expand its ongoing initiatives to increase transparency, strengthen governance and build renewed public trust.
Thursday’s report, which follows an Interim Report released in May, completes a 16-month audit that has prompted calls for improvements in areas including procurement, travel and ethics policies, human resources practices and transparency. Over the past months, the Authority has been engaged in a number of initiatives to review and revise policies and procedures across the organization.
“We take all the issues and concerns cited in the report very seriously and will respond to all of the report’s recommendations,” Authority Board Chairman Michael Curto said. “We are examining today’s report with a particular focus on items that were not discussed in the Interim Report.”
Curto noted that the Authority is making significant progress addressing issues cited by the Inspector General, with several major policy revisions complete and others under way.
“We are gratified that the final report acknowledges the actions we have taken since the May Interim Report, as well as our ongoing initiatives, to bring greater transparency and accountability, efficiency, and integrity to our operations and governance,” Curto said. “We are committed to strong oversight and internal controls and to making certain that everything we do going forward reflects the best practices of government and industry. We will use this report as a tool in expanding and enhancing our work to increase transparency, strengthen governance and build renewed public trust.”
Curto emphasized that the Airports Authority has been working closely with a Federal Accountability Officer appointed by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to review and revamp policies and procedures and to address issues raised by LaHood, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf.
“While the criticisms and issues raised have been unpleasant to hear – and will require hard work to address – we appreciate their interest and guidance, and we know they share our goal of making the Airports Authority a better organization.”
To date, the Authority’s new policy initiatives include:
- Bylaws: In February, the Board of Directors approved changes to the Bylaws to increase transparency of the Board’s operations, including requirements to post Board meeting information on the Airports Authority’s public website. The Bylaws were further amended in October to incorporate changes in the Authority’s Compact legislation increasing the size of the Board to 17 members, eliminating Board service beyond the appointed term limit and establishing new quorum and super-majority voting requirements for certain actions.
- Freedom of Information Policy: In July, the Board revised the Freedom of Information Policy, clarifying how the public can obtain information from the Authority and designating a Freedom of Information Officer to respond to public requests and assure greater transparency.
- Travel Policy: In September, the Board approved a new Travel Policy applicable to employees and the Board, setting forth detailed procedures for pre-authorization of travel and establishing clear guidelines and daily limits for meals and expenses.
- Code of Ethics: In September, the Board approved a new Code of Ethics for employees and Directors and established requirements for annual training and oversight through designation of a formal Ethics Officer. The new policy bars Directors and members of their families from being employed by, or having contracts with, the Authority during their terms and for two years thereafter. In addition, it expands the financial disclosures to be made annually by Directors and employees, strengthens the rules against nepotism, tightens the rules relating to the solicitation and acceptance of gifts, and defines the obligations of Directors and employees when faced with conflicts of interests. In October, the Authority launched a series of 38 ethics training sessions to explain the policy to Board members and all employees.
In addition, the Authority is developing further revisions to its procurement and human resource programs, which are expected to be completed this calendar year. To immediately address specific concerns, the Authority has:
- Suspended the use of categorical exceptions to full and open competition for the procurement of legal, financial, audit or legislative professional services.
- Terminated all non-competed contracts involving former Board members, re-acquiring services performed under these contracts through full and open competition.
- Ended employment relationships with former Board members.
- Revised management guidance for the Student Employment Program.
- Created an Internal Control Group to establish systems and track actions necessary to enforce policies and assure accountability.
Airports Authority President and CEO Jack Potter noted that in the area of procurement, the Authority is “well into the process of revising our contracting manual and other procedures to reflect best practices and promote fair and open competition.
“In the area of human resources, we are moving forward with a process to ensure that at our hiring processes, our compensation and benefits structures to assure that they are consistent with our goal of best practices,” Potter said, adding that the Board recently approved the airports police department’s pursuit of regulatory approval for additional authority to conduct criminal background checks to aid the personnel process.
Potter further noted that “some issues cited in the report are one-time or isolated events, which were detected and dealt with when they occurred during the five years covered by the audit. For some other issues, we need to have the details and facts to be sure we have a fair and accurate assessment of the findings. We are asking the Inspector General to share those facts and details with us.”
Potter thanked Authority employees for remaining “focused on customer service and on our core missions of managing Reagan and Dulles airports and the Dulles Toll Road and construction of the Silver Line. All those enterprises are operating well, which is a testament to the talent and dedication of the MWAA staff.”