- Associated Press - Thursday, November 1, 2012

A federal audit of the authority that runs metropolitan Washington’s two major airports has revealed more problems, including over-reliance 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.

The authority planned a Thursday afternoon press conference to respond.

Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, 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 Mr. Wolf, who became more suspicious of the authority when it resisted his requests for an outside audit.

Mr. 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 the new CEO, former postmaster general Jack Potter, wants to implement reforms. He said he would expect the board to implement all if the auditors’ recommendations.

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

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