It has also come under intense scrutiny for a series of highly questionable decisions, including extravagant international travel by board members, the awarding of contracts to former board members and staff, and — as recently noted by
The Washington Post editorial board — giving a confidential $200,000 settlement to an unsuccessful candidate who was all but promised, but never offered, the CEO position.
All of these issues stem from a lack of transparency and accountability. To make matters worse, the decisions made by this board indiscriminately impact a population it doesn’t accurately represent. Virginia occupies only five of the 13 seats on the board, with the others belonging to the District of Columbia, Maryland and the federal government.
At the same time, the critical infrastructure assets it oversees — Reagan National Airport, Dulles Airport, the Dulles Toll Road and the new Silver Line Metrorail — play immeasurable roles in the economic success of Northern Virginia and the commonwealth. The number of businesses that have chosen to locate in this region is directly related to the availability of these resources.
The decisions made by this board, especially as they relate to tolls in the Dulles Corridor, directly impact the daily lives of millions of Northern Virginians and thousands of businesses; yet, the majority of board members don’t have to deal with the consequences. The board members from Maryland and the District will rarely, if ever, be forced to pay the tolls on the Dulles Toll Road and the federal appointees do not live in the region.
The current board has continually signaled its reluctance to operate in a climate of accountability and transparency, and too much is on the line economically for Virginia for this to continue. It is no longer in the commonwealth’s interest to have this organization operating under its current structure, and now is the time for reform.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) has proposed legislation that would cut the board from 13 members to nine, six of whom would be appointed by the governor of Virginia. This legislation does not remove representation from Maryland and D.C.; rather, it just affirms that the Commonwealth has the most interest in the airports, the toll road and the rail project and therefore should have a majority of seats.
Under the legislation, D.C. and Maryland would retain one seat each with the federal government holding the third. Through this change, the legislation brings decision making authority back to the jurisdiction it most significantly impacts.
Virginia’s economic future depends on the authority’s ability to manage the airports, Dulles Rail and most importantly the Dulles Corridor, which is the economic engine of Virginia. Unfortunately, the issues plaguing MWAA are systemic. To fix these issues and win back public trust requires bold action. The MWAA Board needs reform, and it needs it now.
Wolf’s legislation is the way to do that, and it has the full support of the Northern Virginia business community.
Jim Corcoran is the president and chief executive of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 600 businesses and nearly 500,000 jobs in Northern Virginia.