‘Chronic Failures’ May Bring Washington Airports Under Federal Regulations

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Washington, D.C.’s congressional delegate said Tuesday that she will introduce a bill requiring the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to follow federal auditing regulations.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill came after an Inspector General’s Office report released last week found major flaws in the processes the MWAA uses to audit its internal operations.

Many of the chief concerns in the report centered around the MWAA audit office’s inability to adequately support its reports with source documents, and the office’s inability to comply with widely accepted industry standards. The MWAA provided work papers to the inspector general that did not identify the sources, and in particular, the Office of Audit’s work papers did not clearly support 19 of 30 facts and figures in 4 of 5 of the reports reviewed.

“Unfortunately, this latest report showcasing the chronic failures at MWAA is not breaking news,” Norton said in a statement. “For years, similar reports have warned that MWAA’s contracting and other financial processes lack meaningful oversight from its Office of Audit, which is in desperate need of reform.”

The MWAA Office of Audit also had severe issues in the day-to-day interactions between supervisors and staff. It has no process for issuing formal audit policies and procedures, with most coming verbally from the Vice President of Audit, or limited written policies “that are not signed or dated,” according to the report.

In the report the vice president of audit office said staff is required to complete 40 hours of training annually, and that she “mentally tracks” the completion of this training. However, documents provided to the Inspector General showed that “three of the four staff, including the Vice President of Audit, did not obtain 40 hours of continuing professional development annually between 2011 and 2013.”

A similar investigation of the MWAA in 2012 found that the organization is consumed by a “culture of favoritism,” in which senior staff at the MWAA selected contractors based on who they liked best. Almost two-thirds of contracts approved by the MWAA worth more than $200,000 were awarded without proper competition, and one contract went to a bidder even though they charged 234 percent more than other bidders.

“We have given MWAA several chances to reform itself, and although some changes, I am pleased to note, have been made, the recent IG report shows that the agency still has a long way to go to regain the public’s trust. Now is the time to put an end to the serial controversies about MWAA’s contracting and financial management processes.”

According to the report, the MWAA Office Of Audit never conducted internal assessments of its quality assurance process during the review period and, since 1997, it never underwent an external peer review, which is required every five years by Institute of Internal Auditors standards.

The report concluded that the MWAA’s Office of Audit, whose responsibility it is to identify and examine areas with the potential for fraud, waste and abuse, was not effective in performing these tasks and offered several recommendations to help the office meet its goals.

The recommendations included the development and implementation of a policy to obtain an external peer review for the MWAA’s Office of Audit, the development of a dual reporting structure for both the MWAA Board of Directors and CEO, and the implementation of periodic assessments of the office’s quality assurance and improvement program.

In a statement, Kimberly Gibbs, a spokesperson for the MWAA said the agency appreciated the audit and recommendations, and they intend to implement them as soon as feasibly possible. “The Airports Authority has taken significant steps to improve internal controls,” she said.

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