Dan Scandling, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf’s spokesman, says that legislation calling for sweeping changes to the makeup of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board of directors is necessary to re-establish stability and accountability.
MWWA board of director’s Chairman Charles Snelling opposed Wolf’s legislation at Wednesday’s board meeting, prolonging the friction between the board and the Republican lawmaker.
Wolf wants to increase the number of Virginia representatives on the board of directors from five to nine, bringing the entire board membership to 17.
Right now, Virginia’s governor appoints five members. The president of the United States and the mayor of D.C. each appoint three members and Maryland’s governor appoints two members.
These four additional Virginia members would give the state a majority vote, which Scandling said is only fair because the entities that MWAA manages—Dulles International Airport, Reagan National Airport and the Dulles Toll Road—are all in Virginia.
Scandling said that because 75 percent of the funding for the Dulles Corridor Metro project comes from Dulles Toll Road tolls, Virginia residents would end up paying more for the 23-mile Metro extension from West Falls Church to Dulles International Airport and Ashburn. Scandling says the proposed legislation would help ensure that the tolls remain as low as possible, and it has the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Wolf and the MWAA board have rarely seen eye-to-eye on the direction of the rail project. Wolf announced in May that he also wanted to make it easier to remove MWAA board members. His legislation would allow the governors of Maryland and Virginia, the mayor of D.C. and the U.S. president to remove any board member they did not appoint. Members could also be removed if their terms have expired, ending the current rule that allows a member to continue serving until a replacement is appointed.
“There is more to this than just expanding Virginia’s role,” Scandling said.
Wolf has called the MWAA board of directors “dysfunctional,” and Scandling Thursday said this legislation brings more accountability to the board. When describing the dysfunction, Wolf often uses the example of when a former board member on house arrest in the Ivory Coast of Africa had cast the deciding vote by proxy in a controversial decision to advance the appointment of a new executive director from San Francisco. This same former board member hadn't attented a MWAA meeting in two years.
“This problem arose because under the current law, board members serve until their replacement is confirmed,” Wolf said in May. “While this may have worked in the past, in my opinion the law is being abused to keep political favorites in office, even if their service is suspect.”
The critical eye on the MWAA board resurfaced this summer when it had voted to build a more expensive underground Metro station at Dulles International Airport. MWAA manages the construction of both phases of the Metro rail extension project to Reston, Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County.
Wolf led a coalition of frustrated lawmakers and residents who opposed the more expensive underground option and ultimately forced the MWAA board to reverse course and build the cheaper aboveground station.
Snelling said Wednesday night that MWAA was created in 1986 to provide effective stewardship and management of Reagan National and Dulles International airports and the Dulles Access right of way. MWAA’s management of these entities has produced major aviation and transportation benefits to the region, Snelling said.
“The composition of the Authority’s Board of Directors was created through an inclusive and deliberate process involving the federal government and the three local jurisdictions so they would be represented fairly and so that no one entity would exercise unilateral control over policy or operations,” Snelling said.
“The Board opposes any legislation to change the structure and current balance of the Board. We believe that the proposal would have significant negative impacts on the operations and development of the Airports Authority, and therefore, will have negative impacts on the future growth and development of the metropolitan region.”