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Federal Audit Reveals More Problems At D.C. Airports

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — A federal audit of the authority that runs metropolitan Washington’s two major airports has revealed more problems, including overreliance on no-bid contracts and executives accepting expensive gifts from contractors.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has faced withering criticism for its oversight of a planned $5.6 billion extension of the region’s Metrorail system to Dulles International Airport and other issues.

The audit released Thursday by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general cites broad mismanagement and expands on an interim report earlier this year.

The audit found that staff accepted gifts like Super Bowl tickets, concert tickets and trips to golf tournaments and other sporting events from contractors who receive work from the authority.

Contracts worth more than $200,000 are supposed to be competitively bid, but the audit found that nearly two-thirds of contracts worth more than $200,000 were no-bid deals under various exceptions to the rule requiring competitive bids. About half the time, the audit found MWAA’s justifications for going forward on a no-bid contract to be unjustified.

Evidence of nepotism and excessive pay and bonuses lavished on certain employees was also found by the auditors, according to the report.

The audit does credit the authority for implementing reforms in recent months.

At a news conference Thursday, the authority’s CEO, Jack Potter, said he takes the audit seriously. The authority is tightening rules on nepotism, and has canceled roughly a dozen contracts that former board members held that were obtained without competitive bidding.

The large number of contracts that had gone to people with insider connections is “not a practice we condone,” Potter said, though he also said that most of those contracts had provided “good value for the dollar.”

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who requested the audit, said the report shows the board’s problems are “deeper than I thought it was.”

For many years, the airports board had a well-deserved strong reputation but “something went off track three, four, five years ago,” said Wolf, who became more suspicious of the authority when it resisted his requests for an outside audit.

Wolf sponsored legislation that has added new members to the board, and he said he does believe now that the board is making improvements and that he believes Potter wants to implement reforms. He said he would expect the board to implement all of the auditors’ recommendations.

“Nobody on that board now can stand up and object to Mr. Potter cleaning up” the mess that remains, Wolf said.

Airports board chairman Michael Curto said Thursday that he expects the board will address all of the audit’s recommendations.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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