washingtonpost.com > Business > Local Business

Inspector General Proposed For Metro

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

A Maryland lawmaker is asking Metro's board of directors to appoint an independent inspector general to oversee the transit system and make it more accountable to the public.

Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) sent a letter yesterday to Metro board Chairman T. Dana Kauffman, urging the board to create an "independent investigative authority" to study Metro budgets, plans, purchases and employee relations with the goal of improving operations and alerting the public to problems.

Wynn said he wants independent oversight because he doubts the ability of agency executives to correct problems at Metro. "We need an objective inspector general who can move in a structured, formal way, who has the muscle to say to the Metro board and the CEO that these problems are not being addressed," he said. "I think there's a pretty broad consensus that people are not satisfied with Metro, given the amount of investment. There's problems."

A series of articles published in The Washington Post last year detailed how Metro mismanaged nearly $1 billion in rail car and escalator contracts. The newspaper's investigation also found that Metro ignored safety warnings and failed to effectively manage its program to transport the disabled. Last week, the paper chronicled how the Metrobus system was underfunded and neglected by management.

"Metro system riders and the general public should not learn of [Metro's] hidden problems from daily newspaper stories," Wynn wrote in his letter to Kauffman.

Metro has an auditor general who reports to the chief executive, Richard A. White. Metro board members have been holding private discussions about ousting White, who has three years remaining on his employment contract.

The auditor general has historically focused on Metro's contracts, making sure the agency pays fair prices for construction work, for example.

Recently, the agency created jobs for quality assurance inspectors, but their findings are also reported internally, and they also answer to White.

Wynn wants Metro to follow the model used by most federal agencies, which are overseen by inspectors general who are appointed by the president and are independent of agency executives. They conduct audits of programs and operations, recommend changes to detect and prevent fraud, investigate allegations of wrongdoing and report to the public about deficiencies.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) introduced legislation last year that would create an inspector general at Metro but only if Congress gives $1.5 billion to the transit system and local governments agree to set aside a dedicated source of funding for Metro to help pay its mounting capital and operating costs. The bill was approved by a House committee late last year and could come to the House floor this year.

Wynn said he did not want to wait for the Davis bill, which he is co-sponsoring, to wend its way through Congress. "Sometimes, legislation gets held up, delayed and pushed back," he said. "There's no reason why Metro shouldn't take up this issue of independent oversight and get the ball rolling."

Drew Crockett, a spokesman for Davis, said the lawmaker would support a Metro effort to create an inspector general, but Metro should follow the pattern set by federal agencies. "Any IG office has to have enough independence and effectiveness to make Metro more transparent and accountable," he said. "It has to have teeth. It has to get the job done."

Kauffman said yesterday that he agrees with Wynn and has taken steps to propose the creation of an independent inspector general. The issue is scheduled to be discussed by the Metro board next month, he said. "This is just a needed step at an age when every other type of public agency has similar accountability, similar openness," Kauffman said. "We should just do it."

Metro operates the nation's second-busiest subway and fifth-largest bus system.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company