Travel records this year for the authority that oversees Reagan National and Dulles International airports show reports in disarray, sloppy bookkeeping for some expenses and an instance in which the authority overpaid reimbursements to one board member.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is also overseeing the $6 billion Dulles rail project, has come under increased scrutiny about whether it is transparent enough and how it is monitoring the construction of the Metrorail extension.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general is auditing the authority, a move requested by lawmakers worried about a lack of oversight.
A Washington Post review of travel records for MWAA’s 13-member board, which are not examined by an external auditor, according to a spokeswoman, revealed errors that had not been caught by the authority’s internal system of checks and balances.
The board spent about $96,000, or about 37 percent of its annual travel budget, in the first two quarters of this year.
After inquiries from The Post, the authority revised some travel records several times. In one instance, Quince Brinkley, vice president and secretary to MWAA’s board, reviewed a file to search for a missing expense report page and said he found that the authority had reimbursed board member Dennis L. Martire for $1,150 more than it should have for a trip he took to an aviation conference in Cagliari, Italy, in May.
Brinkley said Martire was wrongly reimbursed because of a “clerical error.” He said an administrative assistant double-counted receipts for hotels, taxis and other fees.
“We should have caught this,” Brinkley said.
He said there are three checks on expenses, including the administrative assistant, the director of board operations and the finance department. He said he double-checks complicated expense reports, such as those that involve several board members.
Brinkley said he contacted Martire last week when he discovered the error and told him that he needed to reimburse the authority. Martire sent the authority a check Thursday.
“I trusted they reimbursed me for my actual expenses,” Martire wrote in an e-mail. “A mistake was made by MWAA staff not me.”
According to Brinkley, two staffers process expense reimbursements, which are reviewed by the finance department and are checked every three or four years by an internal audit. The most recent one was conducted last year, he said. There are no external audits of board travel expenses, according to Tara Hamilton, MWAA’s spokeswoman.
That lack of independent supervision concerns some, such as Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who, along with Iowa Rep. Tom Latham (R), requested the inspector general’s audit this year.
“They should be held accountable,” said Wolf, who was concerned about spending on the Dulles rail project. “They oversee taxpayer money. They determine the economic viability of the airport, and that affects the economic impact of the region. I think people are losing confidence in the airports authority. There must be total and complete openness and accountability.”
According to sources familiar with the audit, the inspector general is examining a wide range of practices, including how the authority contracts services and hires employees and how the board operates. The audit is expected to be completed in the spring.
Members to the board are appointed as representatives of Maryland, Virginia, the District and the president, and they serve six-year terms.
They live across the Washington region, and the three federal board members are required to be registered to vote in another state. The positions are not paid, but members are reimbursed for travel and lodging to the board’s two, one-day-a-month meetings or workshops. Those who live in the District area typically don’t submit expenses for travel to monthly meetings, Brinkley said.
The travel records for the first two quarters of this year had other problems. The airports authority provided three sets of reports for Martire’s trip to the Airports Council International three-day conference in Italy before officials said the records were finally accurate.
The authority reimbursed Martire $10,586 for the trip. That amount does not include the overpayment. His business-class airline ticket cost $9,508 including taxes, and he spent $1,078 for hotel, airport transfers and food, the records show.
Brinkley said he had one of his staffers check for cheaper rates to Italy and found two flights priced between $8,000 and $8,500 round-trip, not including taxes. Board members are encouraged to “make every effort to secure the most economic and cost effective means of travel,” according to their travel policy.