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Head of Dulles, Reagan National agency among the highest-paid airport CEOs in U.S.

Jack Potter, president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, has a base salary of $488,595. However, with bonuses, his total pay is just over $720,000.
Jack Potter, president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, has a base salary of $488,595. However, with bonuses, his total pay is just over $720,000. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
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The head of the agency that manages Dulles International and Reagan National and oversees the multibillion-dollar Silver Line rail project, received more than $246,500 in salary increases and bonuses last year, further solidifying his ranking as one of the highest-paid airport executives in the country.

John E. “Jack” Potter, a former postmaster general who took the job as head of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in 2011, has a base salary of $488,595. However, with bonuses, his total pay is just over $720,000.

In November, the MWAA board voted to give Potter a 3 percent raise and a 30 percent bonus — more than $142,300 — for his work in 2018. Under the terms of his contract, he also received a $90,000 retention bonus, which he remains eligible for as long as he remains in the job.

Head of National and Dulles makes more than leaders of all but one of nation’s 10 busiest airports

In comparison, the Washington region’s other top transportation official, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, makes $456,000 a year.

The terms of Potter’s 2018 pay package were outlined in a document posted on the board of director’s section of the MWAA website under “Reference Materials.”

MWAA officials had previously declined to release information beyond Potter’s base salary to The Washington Post, citing privacy concerns. However, after a story about the authority’s refusal appeared in the newspaper last year, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) demanded that the MWAA make the information public.

“There is no case to be made for withholding from the American public basic information on how MWAA compensated its executives,” Norton wrote in a letter to the authority last June.

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As head of MWAA, Potter oversees a workforce of about 1,700 employees and a budget of nearly $2 billion.

Potter’s salary is not paid for by taxpayers. Dulles and National, like most U.S. airports, are self-supporting — funded through landing fees, rent and concessions, including parking and food and beverage sales.

However, the airports authority does receive federal funding as part of its management of construction of the $5.8 billion Silver Line rail extension. The project received a $900 million federal grant to fund its first phase and nearly $2 billion in federal loans to pay for the second, which is scheduled to open for passenger service next year.

The project has been plagued with construction problems and on Friday, Metro Inspector General Geoffrey A. Cherrington issued management alerts detailing more issues. He said the problems could create significant cost and operational issues and is urging Metro not to accept control of the line until the issues are resolved.

The project, one of the largest rail lines under construction in the United States, is more than a year behind schedule.

Why the second phase of the Silver Line is so troubled

While the MWAA is managing construction of the rail line, Metro will manage and operate it once that is completed.

The airports authority also has received support from Virginia. In 2015, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced a plan to give the authority $50 million — payable in two installments — to help make Dulles Airport more competitive.

Dulles and National rank 25th and 26th, respectively, among the nation’s airports in terms of passenger traffic. But an analysis by The Washington Post found that pay for airport executives varies across the country and doesn’t necessarily track with the size or number of operations of an airport.

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For example, Sean Donohue, chief executive of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the fourth-busiest in the United States, receives a base salary of $512,000 and is eligible for a 40 percent performance bonus as part of a five-year contract approved this year, making him the highest paid. Joe Lopano, who runs Tampa International Airport, the 28th busiest in the country, makes $508,830 a year.

John Selden, head of the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, earns $280,000 a year. And Ricky Smith, head of the Washington region’s busiest airport, Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, makes $310,743 a year. BWI ranks 22nd in terms of passenger traffic among U.S. airports.

Airports authority releases details of CEO Jack Potter’s contract

The MWAA board’s chairman, Warner Session, did not return requests for comment on Potter’s pay package. Potter did not return requests for comment either.

However, board documents included a letter Session sent to the MWAA’s vice president for human resources, Anthony Vegliante, that outlined the panel’s decision to give Potter a raise and a bonus.

According to the document, a compensation consultant told members of the board’s executive and governance committee that even at his current level of pay, Potter’s total compensation still lags behind that of other CEOs in a selection of key industries. The document did not identify the CEOs with whom Potter was compared.

In the past, Session has said that Potter’s salary is justified because his job is far more complex than that of most airport CEOs and includes not just oversight of two airports but of the Silver Line project. The first phase of the rail project opened in July 2014.

Potter took over as head of the MWAA in 2011 as the agency was grappling with myriad scandals and pledged that the authority would be transparent in its dealings. That’s part of the reason some lawmakers and open-government advocates were leery of its initial refusal to release details of Potter’s contract.

Potter’s deal also includes a provision for a $5,000 executive physical, a company car and cellphone. The authority also agreed to pay any tax liability connected with the car, a Chevy Impala. As part of his 2011 contract, Potter also received a $25,000 signing bonus.

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