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GAO Asked To Investigate Metro Costs

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By Lyndsey Layton and Jo Becker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 9, 2005

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said yesterday that he is asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate the way Metro managed nearly $1 billion in programs to buy new rail cars, rebuild middle-aged cars and renovate its escalators. Davis said he also will have hearings in July on management of the public transit system in light of its request for $1.5 billion from Congress.

"We are committed to sorting this out," Davis said, vowing that any additional funds will come with new federal oversight, such as a federal presence on the Metro board of directors. "We're talking about a federal scrubbing that has not been done in the past," he said.

Other regional leaders echoed Davis yesterday in urging additional oversight of Metro, citing concerns about whether the agency has properly managed major contracts and is wisely spending tax dollars.

"Covering problems up or ignoring them is very counterproductive, but I think that clearly that has been the way [Metro] has operated," Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said. He said that before local leaders can consider Metro's request for a guaranteed, or dedicated, source of income, "issues of budget and management accountability have to be seriously addressed."

Flanagan called Metro "a great public transit system" but added that "there are very serious challenges."

Metro board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Fairfax County, said he believes that Metro already has adequate oversight. But he said he would welcome additional scrutiny if it came attached to additional money.

"It doesn't give me concern," Kauffman said, adding that he also would support an additional seat to represent federal interests on the Metro board.

The calls for better oversight come in the wake of a series of articles this week in The Washington Post detailing how Metro mismanaged nearly $1 billion in recent rail car and escalator projects and spends millions on projects not directly related to its core transportation mission. The newspaper's investigation also found that the agency ignored safety warnings and failed to effectively manage its program to transport the disabled.

Metro is in the midst of an unprecedented push for additional dollars. It recently persuaded local governments to give it an emergency infusion of $1.8 billion and is seeking the funding from Congress. The agency also is campaigning intensely for a long-term source of dedicated funding, such as a regional sales tax, to buy rail cars and buses and accommodate future ridership growth.

Davis and others remained supportive of Metro, and Davis said he worried that negative publicity could hurt Metro's chance of winning funding it legitimately needs.

Robert Smith, who represents Maryland on the Metro board, said the agency has recognized that it has problems and is doing all it can to solve them. "The board and [Chief Executive Richard A. White] himself are making a strong effort at responding to all of those conditions," said Smith, who has pushed the agency to be more open.

Metro dispatched more than 120 managers to distribute 225,000 "Dear Fellow Rider" fliers at 48 Metro stations Tuesday evening. The fliers boasted of Metro's successes and dismissed the issues raised by the Post series as "outdated."

Others argued that the issues are on the front burner because of Metro's campaign to win a new source of income.

John M. Kane, an officer and board member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said that Metro needs additional funds but that "if they had spent what they had properly, they wouldn't have as big of a problem."

Virginia Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said that Metro must "first get the trust of the people back and only then ask for more money." Albo also is a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

"They have to prove that they are not going to spend money fixing the same problem with escalators twice, or buy new rail cars that break down as often as the old ones," he said.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments discussed its effort to win wider support for dedicated funding for Metro at a meeting yesterday but did not vote on the issue. Board member and Montgomery County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) said he and other members continue to support additional funding but "we need to address the concerns that have been raised."

John J. Corbett of Metroriders.Org, a rider advocacy group, called for the appointment of an inspector general who would report to the board of directors. Metro has an auditor general who is appointed by White. "We're urging greater availability of information and documents so everyone can participate in overseeing Metro management activities," Corbett said.

Ann Plamondon, an economist for the Department of Justice, said she was angered by the flier she was handed at Archives-Navy Memorial Station on Tuesday evening. "This is exactly what's wrong with Richard White," she said. "He diverts resources to cover his [rear] with that sort of stuff. And then thousands of them are all over the platform because there are no trash barrel in the stations."


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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