BWI's use of grants questioned

February 03, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is among 17 airports nationwide that may have illegally diverted a total of $252.5 million in federal airport money since 1982 to finance nonairport services, according to a congressional report released yesterday.

Rep. Bob Carr, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the committee's Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, criticized the Federal Aviation Administration's oversight and enforcement of a 1982 statute requiring federal airport grants to be used strictly for airport purposes.

Since 1982, more than $14.5 billion in grants has been awarded for 14,000 airport improvement projects.

"There is virtually no enforcement mechanism, and [the agency] conducts no audits to detect revenue diversion," Mr. Carr said after the release of the 30-page report.

The subcommittee's investigation was sparked by the city of Los Angeles' effort last year to divert money earmarked for Los Angeles International Airport to the city's police and fire departments.

The report says the state of Maryland transferred $12.7 million of airport income to the state's general fund, which is used for purposes ranging from welfare payments to public safety. The transfers occurred between July 1984 and June 1986 and between July 1991 and June 1992. The state faced deep financial troubles during the latter period.

In Maryland, all transportation revenue, including federal grants to BWI and other airport revenue, is commingled in a trust fund, which was established in 1970 and finances state transportation facilities and programs such as BWI, the Mass Transit Administration and the port of Baltimore.

State officials said federal authorities long ago granted Maryland an exemption that allows the commingling of transportation money for airport authorities with jurisdiction over more than one airport or transit facility. Other states and cities have received exemptions as well.

"We believe we are in compliance with federal grant assurances and the trust fund concept is legal," said Nick Schaus, deputy administrator of BWI.

The subcommittee's investigation focused on 33 major airports. It concluded that BWI was among several airports that may not be entitled to the exemption.

The report said nearly $900 million was diverted at airports investigated, but $641 million of that occurred at airports meeting the exemption, including airports in New York, Boston, New Jersey, San Francisco and Honolulu.

Among the airports that have diverted money but are not entitled to exemptions, the report said, are BWI and airports in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Diego, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.

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