Baltimore-Washington International Airport may get another chance tobecome home to a coveted Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex.
Criticizing the selection process used last year by the Smithsonian to pick a Virginia airport over BWI, the General Accounting Office has strongly recommended the museum start looking all over again.
"The only fair and reasonable way to convince the Congress and the public that it has selected the best site would be for the Smithsonian to use a more formal, systematic and cost-conscious process," GAOauditors concluded.
Maryland officials said they still want the annex at BWI. But they said they will wait for a final decision on reopening the bidding before formerly sending in a new proposal.
"It is between Congress and the Smithsonian," said R. Dean Kenderdine, assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.
But a Smithsonian spokeswoman called the the GAO report misleading and full of factual errors. Madeleine Jacobs said yesterday that museum officials haven't decided how to react to the GAO report.
A bill already is before Congress to authorize the Smithsonian Board of Regents to start designing the annex at Dulles International Airport, and the GAO report may become an issue when the billis debated.
The Board of Regents picked Dulles in January 1990 and reaffirmed its recommendation Monday. But Congress has the final say on what site is chosen.
The museum was sought by Maryland, Virginia and Colorado because it could provide 500 new jobs, $10 million in additional tax revenue and could bring in millions of tourists a year.
The new museum, which has been planned for more than a decade,will house the Enola Gay, the B-29 plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the space shuttle Enterprise, a Concorde supersonic jet and dozens of other aircraft too large for display at the Washington museum.
The proposed 1.5-million-square-foot building would cost an estimated $360 million. The cost would be shared between the federal government and the state. Both Virginia and Maryland set up committees to seek private money for the project.
The Maryland site would be at BWI, near the intersection of Dorsey and Camp Meade roads.
The Smithsonian chose Dulles over BWI because the 185 acresslated for the museum is federally owned and because the airport is considered a "gateway" to Washington, with easy access to the district on access roads.
But in testimony before the House subcommittee that oversees the Smithsonian's spending, the GAO criticized the museum for not soliciting proposals from other cities. It also said it never made public the criteria for selecting a site and never fully investigated how much it would cost to build the museum in the interested cities.
Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, said he is pleased that the GAO agreed with Maryland's contention that the Smithsonian did not carry out a fair search.
"The problem from Maryland's standpoint is that we had no clear concept of what they were looking for. When an award is given out, it is kind of late to tell why they are pleased witha site," he said.
The GAO said it found deficiencies in the way the Smithsonian set requirements, identified potential sites, communicated requirements to bidders, evaluated proposals and selected a winner.
"The land for the Dulles proposal, which is already owned by the government, has not been considered as a cost in the Smithsonian'sanalysis," the GAO said. "The land has alternative uses and a considerable market value. It should not be regarded as free."
The report also says a reason given for selecting Dulles because it is a "symbol as the prime gateway to the nation's capital" was not presented inits criteria given to airports bidding for the museum.
"Dulles might possibly be the best site," the GAO concluded. "But the Smithsonian's process cannot be relied upon to objectively defend (its) selection."
Jacobs, the Smithsonian spokeswoman, said the GAO report contains many factual errors, but he refused to elaborate.
"We don't really know what is going to be done," she said. "The report is flawed in its basic assumption. It ignored the criteria we had stated for 10 years that any extension must be located within an hour's drive ofWashington, D.C."
Jacobs said keeping the building close to Washington will keep operating costs under $10 million a year, as opposed to $60 million if the museum were to be built at the Denver airport, which also is interested in having the building.
She said museum and GAO officials may meet to discuss the report. She said it "will bea long time" before a decision is made on whether to open bidding. "Don't look for a quick decision on this. It is in a state of flux. I don't know what is going to happen."
Kenderdine said he is glad the process may be reopened but said he is worried that sites all over the country will be allowed to compete for the museum.
"If the proximity to Washington is dismissed as being a factor and it is opened to bidders nationwide," he said, "then Maryland is not just competingwith Dulles, but with however many airports want this."
Kenderdine wouldn't say whether he agreed with the GAO's findings.