MWAA officials got tens of thousands in raises

December 18, 2012

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which has faced scrutiny for lavish spending and hiring practices, awarded tens of thousands of dollars in pay adjustments to several top officials this year, records show.

Christopher Browne, a vice president who oversees Dulles International Airport, and at least four other vice presidents received salary increases in January and “pay adjustments” several months later of up to nearly 14 percent, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post. Raises for the MWAA’s other 1,400 employees, which averaged 2.5 percent, were issued in January.

MWAA President Jack Potter recommended and approved the adjustments for the executives, saying he did so for “parity and retention.”

“When you have the potential to lose somebody, one way of keeping them in the fold was making sure their compensation was appropriate,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a common practice I had in the Postal Service.”

Potter, who received a $25,000 signing bonus last year and now makes $375,000 annually, is the former U.S. postmaster general.

Browne received a $6,333 raise in January and a $14,389 pay adjustment eight months later, agency records show. He is now paid $225,000 a year. Elmer Tippett, vice president of public safety, got a pay raise in January and a pay adjustment in September. His salary went from $195,967 last year to $210,000.

“In my mind, the pay changes that I made reflect the fact that these two individuals have big areas of responsibility . . . and were not compensated accordingly,” Potter said.

Neither Browne nor Tippett returned phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

The agency, which oversees Dulles and Reagan National airports, the Dulles Toll Road and construction of the $5.6 billion Silver Line Metrorail project, is being criticized for excessive travel spending, nepotism and its contracting practices.

It also is facing scrutiny for a large increase in the Dulles Toll Road rates.

Andrew Rountree, vice president for finance and chief financial officer, also got a pay bump: from $197,742 last year, to $203,872 in January and to $225,000 in June, or nearly 14 percent. He did not return a call Tuesday.

Two other vice presidents — Steven C. Baker, who oversees business administration, and Arl B. Williams, who was in charge of human resources — also received increases. Baker got a pay raise in January and a “promotion and change in supervisor” adjustment three months later, going from $183,755 last year to $205,567 this year. Williams also saw two raises within three months, going from $185,528 to $208,774.

Their job duties remained the same, though “more responsibility falls on that person,” Potter said.

“They’re reporting directly to me instead of” the chief operating officer, he said. “They have additional authority by reporting to the person at the top.”

Williams resigned in October after the Department of Transportation’s inspector general found that he violated the MWAA’s ethics code by indirectly supervising family members and denying that he had relatives working for the authority. The ethics code prohibits employees from hiring, supervising or working with relatives. The audit found myriad problems within the authority, including employees accepting Super Bowl tickets and other gifts and the issuance of several large no-bid contracts.

The Washington Post reported this month that dozens of family members landed jobs at the MWAA, including relatives of Browne and Tippett. In some cases, the family members reported directly or indirectly to their relatives.

Williams, who remained on the payroll until mid-November, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Baker also did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Potter said he didn’t know about problems at the MWAA when he gave the pay adjustments, although the DOT audit was well underway.

“There was no expectation that they would find anything,” he said.

Potter acknowledged that he was unaware of other employees who received pay increases twice last year. The adjustments for his vice presidents were allowed under MWAA policy, which calls for an automatic 10 percent pay increase when there’s a change in job grade, he said. Baker and Williams had changes in job grade. Tippett and Browne did not. It was unclear whether Rountree did.

“That’s our policy,” he said. “There was no deviation.”

Potter pledged to revisit the policy and to freeze pay for vice presidents next year because they “are paid a very fair wage.”

“We’re facing a tough budget year,” he said. “This is not a time to give wage increases to executives.”

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