Lawmakers Warn Metro On Funding
Friday, July 29, 2005
Congressional representatives from the Washington region said yesterday that they will fight for an infusion of federal money for Metro but that the transit system needs better management and accountability.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who chaired a hearing on Metro yesterday before the House Committee on Government Reform, said new, independent oversight is key to correcting problems inside Metro.
"The [existing] oversight is not very good," Davis said. "We need professionals in there really doing oversight, so we don't have the same old people saying, 'We're going to get it right,' for the fifth time."
Davis called the hearing after a series of articles was published last month in The Washington Post that detailed how Metro mismanaged nearly $1 billion in recent rail car and escalator contracts. The newspaper's investigation also found that the agency ignored safety warnings and failed to effectively manage its program to transport the disabled.
Concerns about management at Metro come as the transit system faces severe financial shortfalls. Davis filed a bill yesterday that asks Congress to provide $1.5 billion to keep trains, tracks, stations and buses in good repair and relieve the crowding that threatens to overwhelm the transit system. Metro would have to make management changes, and the region would have to come up with a steady source of revenue for the system.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said Metro's chief executive, Richard A. White, needs to hold managers accountable. "Sometimes, there comes a time when you have to fire people," Cummings said.
White said a half-dozen senior managers have been asked to leave their jobs or to take an early retirement since The Post began its inquiries late last year. "I pledge to you, sir, that we're going to be much more accountable than we have in the past," he told Cummings.
"In some cases we have a checkered record in how quickly we respond to safety recommendations," White told the committee. "We're not proud to say we were slow to respond or that management was kind of ignoring recommendations, and that's not acceptable."
White said he has redesigned the way Metro handles safety concerns. "If someone is not acting appropriately or quickly, there will be intervention and consequences for that manager," he said.
Cummings asked about MetroAccess, the curb-to-curb service for the disabled that the Post series found was riddled with service problems and mismanagement.
White said he was trying to improve the service. "We have a whole new way we're going to try to deliver that service," he said, adding that Metro is working with disabled people to design a new contract for MetroAccess. Metro is being sued by disabled riders who claim the quality of MetroAccess is so poor that it violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Critics of Metro said yesterday's hearing was too easygoing. "It was milquetoast," said Ken Reid, an organizer of LOWER, a group that is fighting the extension of rail to Dulles. He said Metro should be forced to operate with greater cost efficiency and more accountability and transparency, regardless of additional federal funding.