Mireya Villareal, a CBS investigative journalist, recently uncovered an astonishing multi-million dollar abuse of funds by officials at the DFW International airport.

In 2012, airport officials spent over $2.2 million on travel expenses to domestic and international destinations such as Las Vegas, Dubai and South Korea. Expenditures included first-class airfare, chauffeured limousines, 5-star hotels and $7,000 dinner tabs with outrageous alcohol purchases.

One of the most egregious examples was a ‘business’ trip to Paris, costing over $68,000.

Although the airport is primarily financed by user fees paid by travelers and the airlines themselves, it’s still a public subsidiary of its joint owners; the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth.  Eleven of the 12 members on the board serving as fiduciaries are appointed by both cities, and overseen by their respective mayors, city councils and staff.

Interestingly, one of the attendees on a trip to Seoul, South Korea was City of Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings, one of the many public officials ultimately responsible for oversight and accountability.  This duty didn’t stop him from ordering three bottles of wine costing $1,500 a piece, during a $7,300 dinner with Korean Air executives. Public service certainly has its perks.

How can we expect accountability, if those responsible for oversight are involved in the abuse?

Rawlings reimbursed the alcohol purchases from his campaign fund only after he learned CBS had recently launched a thorough investigation. When asked why he would reimburse a supposed legitimate ‘business’ expense, he stated, “Because we need to be good stewards. We do not need to be spending $1,500 a bottle on wine…It was good for the city, but I didn’t want the citizens to pay for it.”

Mayor Rawlings wasn’t the only beneficiary of the airport’s ‘business’ trips. Airport officials often take their spouses too!

Officials claim that the dubious expenditures do not violate airport policy, and are a necessary cost of ‘doing business’. They claim that courting airline officials with lavish favors helps to secure routes between international destinations and DFW.

The reality is that access to profitable routes attract airlines, not fancy dinners and booze.

The people competing for the business opportunity provided by access to the airport are the airlines themselves, who pay landing and terminal fees in exchange for access. The notion that airport officials have to spend millions of dollars attracting airlines to use the airport doesn’t make any sense.

Additionally, the DFW metroplex isn’t an obscure travel destination.

It’s the only international airport in North Texas, home to the fourth largest metropolitan population in the United States (the largest in Texas), with 95% of the U.S. population living within a four hour flight from DFW.  According to official data, it handled the fourth highest flight traffic in the world, carrying the eighth highest number of passengers globally.

The most effective way to attract more routes is the efficient design and operations of its facilities, along with the prudent use of resources, so that flight delays are limited and competitive landing and terminal fees can be offered to attract more routes.

Stated differently, prudent budgetary management are essential to ensure the low fees necessary to attract airlines. Courting executives with lavish goodies won’t affect their company’s profitability.

In 2012, the airport’s annual budget totaled over $600 million dollars, with $253 million in debt service payments alone. In 2013, that obligation will increase to over $300 million, partly as a result of the addition of Terminal D. The airport needs to maximize efficiency to pay off its obligations.

Taxpayers don’t expect officials to run public institutions as effectively as private businesses; the economic incentives of profit and loss aren’t present in government to ensure a comparable level of efficiency and performance. What they don’t approve of, however, is public officials, board members and bureaucrats using a public institution as their personal party service.

If your lifestyle requires lavish corporate perks and prestige, find a job in the private sector and stop sticking North Texans with your bar tab.

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