"This news is outrageous." That was the reaction of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to The Washington Examiner's latest report on insider dealing at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
LaHood is a former congressman from Illinois, so it probably isn't easy to shock him with tales of insider dealing in government. It is nice to know he is on the case of the interstate panel that runs the region's airports, the Dulles Toll Road and Dulles Rail, the nation's largest infrastructure project.
The Examiner reported Tuesday that in February, the day after Democratic activist Mame Reiley resigned from the MWAA board for health reasons, she was signed on as a $180,000-a-year "senior adviser" to the panel's CEO, Jack Potter. This is precisely the sort of revolving-door arrangement that has so angered Americans in recent years. Aside from that, if a health problem is preventing Reiley from serving on the panel, how will she produce $180,000 in value for MWAA as an adviser?
The Examiner also reported that former MWAA board member Jeffrey Thompson -- yes, the same Jeffrey Thompson involved in Mayor Vincent Gray's campaign finance scandal -- was paid nearly $1 million in contracts between 2007 and 2011. Board member Leonard Manning, who participated in a $20,000 MWAA junket to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2010, retired from the board the following year and parlayed his experience into a $42,000 no-bid contract to import Ethiopian flowers to the Washington Dulles International Airport.
The economic model of "get powerful, retire, get rich" is a symptom of everything that is wrong with Washington's political culture. The classic story is that of powerful members of Congress and Cabinet officials cashing out and taking up careers on K Street, where they lobby for or head up industries they helped while in office.
A regional airports panel might seem like small potatoes in comparison to the federal government, but MWAA has authority over a $6 billion capital project and a $2 billion annual budget. It has a knack for rewarding former members, it has been promiscuous with its travel budget and it has resisted seating members who were duly appointed to its board under rules set by Congress. Its board has operated with insufficient oversight. Congress should be looking at ways to fix this problem.