Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D. C.) has written to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, demanding it release details of its chief executive’s contract, citing the agency’s “unique and heightened duty to make transparency in its business practices a priority.”
As head of the authority that oversees Reagan National and Dulles International airports, Jack Potter makes a base salary of just over $451,70o, making him one of the highest-paid airport executives in the United States. Potter makes more than all but one of the heads of the nation’s 10 busiest airports, even though National and Dulles rank 23rd and 26th respectively. By comparison, Huntley Lawrence, the head of New York’s John F. Kennedy International airport, the nation’s fifth busiest, who also manages LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International Stewart International and Teterboro airports, makes $265,772 a year.
Potter’s total compensation is probably higher, but MWAA refused a request from The Washington Post to make his full contract public, citing personal privacy exemptions in its Freedom of Information policy. That policy sharply differs from other airport agencies, including those of Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas, which make contracts for their top executives public. However, MWAA differs from other agencies that manage U.S. airports because it was created by Congress to manage federally owned airports. Its unique status — it is not a federal or state agency — means it essentially sets its own rules on a range of matters, including contracting, ethics and access to public records.
Norton, however, in a letter to MWAA on Monday, insisted that that special status does not shield it from scrutiny.
“There is no case to be made for withholding from the American public basic information on how MWAA compensates its executives,” Norton wrote.
As the airport authority that holds the lease to operate two federally owned airports, MWAA has a heightened responsibility to promote transparency in its business practices. In past years, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee investigated MWAA’s practices, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Inspector General revealed widespread nepotism and multimillion dollar contracts that were not competitively bid. The committee was clear that open access to information and accountability to the public are critical.
Warner Session, chairman of MWAA’s board of directors, said Potter’s salary reflects the complexity of his job that involves not just running National and Dulles, but overseeing the Dulles Toll Road and construction of the $6 billion Silver Line rail extension.
In response to questions about why Potter’s contract would not be made public, Sessions said he thought it was sufficient the public knew Potter’s base salary.
“I would say it’s collective wisdom of the board that details of the other things are best left not disclosed,” Session told The Washington Post. “I think [the public] should know what the salary is, but beyond that I don’t see any value in discussing the details of the contract.”
MWAA officials referred calls on the Norton’s request to Session, who did not respond to requests for comment via phone and email.
An airport executive’s base salary provides only a partial picture of what he or she is paid. In Chicago, airport chief Ginger Evans makes a base salary of $300,000 a year, but as part of her pay package received a $100,000 bonus based on meeting set performance goals. Sean Donohue, chief executive of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, is eligible to receive a $600,000 retention bonus if he stays in the job until Jan. 1, 2021.
Norton directed the authority to provide a copy of Potter’s contract to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure within 30 days.