Seattle airport pacts are being investigated

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles airports Director Gina Marie Lindsey, who is embroiled in a controversy over LAX contracting procedures, oversaw Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at a time when millions of dollars in aviation-related contracts were awarded in violation of policy and state law, according to a recent state government audit.

Released in late December, the inquiry by the Washington State Auditor’s Office found widespread abuses and indications of fraud in contracts issued by the Port of Seattle, an umbrella agency that operates harbor facilities and the airport.

The findings prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation earlier this year into the port’s contracting practices. Authorities declined to comment on the pending investigation.


Overall, the audit found the Port of Seattle wasted almost $100 million in taxpayer funds and violated numerous state laws on projects from January 2004 through March 2007. The audit also questioned many contracts for the harbor and airport going back to the early 1990s.

The report concluded that contracts were regularly awarded without competitive bidding, and in some cases, the port awarded sole-source contracts to former port employees. Auditors also found evidence that some employees illegally altered contractor invoices to pay them for work that exceeded maximum contract amounts.

Lindsey, who was appointed the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports in May, on Tuesday defended her 11-year stint as Seattle’s aviation director, saying the port agency had wide discretion on contracts and the agreements in question were either approved by the port commission or her boss, the chief executive of the port.

“If there was something I had done outside my authority, I would have been contacted as part of the audit. No one has ever contacted me,” said Lindsey, who directed the renovation of the Seattle airport. “No one has done a major program without doing things that can’t be improved upon. There are things that can be learned from the audit.”

But Lindsey said that she has been gone so long from Seattle that she was no longer “competent or able to address the details of the audit.”

Among other things, the state report cited several airport-related contracts, including a consulting contract that was awarded to HNTB, an engineering firm, in 1993 and grew without competition from $950,000 to more than $30 million over several years.


In another major contract, the port hired Parsons Engineering in 1998 as project manager for improvements, including a third runway, to the Seattle airport. Auditors say that the original contract of $3.5 million was modified annually without competition to $127 million, “in violation of state law.”

Lindsey said she could not remember specifics of the HNTB contract. Similarly, she said her recollection of the Parsons contract was faulty, except that it was awarded with the “expressed intent that it would be amended and extended” in the future.

Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman for the Washington state auditor, said Lindsey and port officials are not specifically named in the audit and that the day-to-day contracting work was often delegated to lower-level contract supervisors.

But she said that Lindsey would have had some responsibility over procurements and knowledge of contracts awarded by her division.

The audit also questioned contracts awarded to firms that employed former harbor and airport officials, including McBee Strategic Consulting, where Lindsey went to work after leaving her aviation director’s post at Sea-Tac in August 2004. According to her resume, Lindsey took the airport post in August 1993.

Audit and port records show that McBee, which is based in Washington, D.C., was hired as a lobbyist in early 2004, before Lindsey resigned. According to the documents, the firm’s contract was increased from $200,000 to $600,000 in $200,000 increments while Lindsey worked there.


Auditors said the port circumvented competitive bid requirements in the McBee contract by splitting the contract into $200,000 segments. Sea-Tac policy requires bidding on contracts greater than $200,000, according to the audit.

“Our evaluation of numerous professional services procurements revealed that the Port of Seattle regularly circumvents these competition requirements through a variety of techniques and means,” the audit states.

Lindsey and port officials say a competitive-bid process was used for the McBee contract. Two to three firms, she recalled, were still vying for the work later in the evaluation process. She said she did not know what happened to the contract after that.

When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Lindsey to oversee the city’s airports, she was cited for her leadership in directing the renovation of the Seattle airport. Locally, she is credited with jump-starting long-awaited expansion and modernization of Los Angeles International Airport.

For the last two weeks, questions have been raised about Lindsey’s role in the recent awarding of two major contracts related to the project. DMJM Aviation was awarded a $25-million project management contract with options to renew it for six years. Fentress Architects of Denver received a three-year $41.5-million architectural design contract.

The Los Angeles City Council and the city controller’s office are looking into whether Lindsey improperly steered the contracts to firms she preferred after other companies were initially recommended for the job by airport review panels.


On Tuesday, the council asserted jurisdiction over the Fentress contract, giving it the power to recommend that the agreement be approved or rejected.

Lindsey has denied any impropriety. In the DMJM Aviation contract, she told the Board of Airport Commissioners earlier this week that the review panel wanted more information about the bidders and requested a second review. That review, she said, reversed an endorsement of Bechtel Corp. and recommended DMJM Aviation instead.

A majority of airport commissioners expressed satisfaction with her explanations.