Metro Drops Longtime Manager
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White was forced out of his job yesterday, ending a tenure marked by strides in fixing complex funding problems but struggles with daily crises, including broken escalators, faulty rail cars and preventable accidents.
White had led Metro since 1996, making him the longest-serving chief executive in the agency's 30-year history and lifting his visibility within the industry. He was a frequent visitor on Capitol Hill, testifying on behalf of transit systems across the country, and recently completed a two-year term as chairman of the American Public Transportation Association.
But as he burnished a national reputation, daily service on the nation's second-busiest subway system began to falter. In the past two years, mechanical problems, crowding and management mistakes hampered subway and bus service.
Dan Tangherlini, the District's director of transportation and a Metro board member, was named interim general manager while a search is launched for White's permanent successor.
Tangherlini, who has led the city's Transportation Department since 2002 and has served on the Metro board for 10 months, will resign from both posts before he takes over for White on Feb. 16.
"No person is a person for all seasons," said Jim Graham, who represents the District and had been arguing for a management change for a year in closed sessions of the Metro board. "Mr. White was a person whose season has come and gone. We need a new person."
White will receive a severance package that will guarantee him a six-figure annual income for life.
White blamed Metro's problems on a lack of funding and the aging of the transit system. But a series of articles published in The Washington Post last year detailed how Metro mismanaged nearly $1 billion in rail car and escalator contracts, ignored safety warnings and failed to effectively manage its program to transport the disabled. Last month, the paper chronicled how the Metrobus system was underfunded and neglected by management.
White pledged to fix the problems and made some personnel changes and reorganized his staff. But progress wasn't fast enough for Metro's directors, who agreed in private talks last month to ask White to leave.
His ouster had been brewing for months as the directors grew disillusioned with his performance and his most solid supporters turned to skeptics. The board put White on notice that it wanted improvements in several areas, saying he needed to connect better with Metro's employees and riders.
Meanwhile, Metro began facing increasing scrutiny in the past year from local officials and Congress. In July, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) introduced legislation that would require Metro to hire an inspector general to keep an eye on spending and management, investigate employee reports of wrongdoing and report on the findings.
Because three years remain on White's contract, he will receive a severance package that includes a cash payment of $238,000, continued health insurance and an annual pension of $116,000 for the rest of his life. Upon his death, his spouse will receive $58,000 annually until she dies. He also receives a SmarTrip card good for free travel on Metro for life.