Concerns over delay in filling 2 federal spots on Metro board

By Ann Scott Tyson
Monday, October 25, 2010; 8:17 PM

The Obama administration's delay in naming two new federal members to Metro's board of directors has raised concerns that the transit agency lacks the benefit of added oversight as it selects a new general manager and implements major safety improvements.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Monday issued a statement calling on the General Services Administration to take action by the end of this year. The appointments would bring the number of federal board members to four, which was mandated by Congress in 2008.

But federal officials say they are close to designating new members.

"We have been working hard to ensure that the appointees are the right candidates, with the right experience and background that will be strong representatives for the Federal riding community in the D.C. metro area," said GSA spokeswoman Sahar Wali.

Norton observed that Metro will soon appoint a new general manager and is implementing recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after the Red Line crash.

"Concern about the time that you have taken to appoint directors to the Metro Board is justified, particularly considering the safety issues that have plagued Metro over the past several years, including the June 2009 Red Line train collision, the worst tragedy in Metro's 34-year history," Norton said in a letter she sent to GSA Administrator Martha Johnson.

"GSA must quickly work to identify and select candidates for the two remaining seats on Metro's Board by year's end," she said

The Obama administration named veteran transportation official Mortimer Downer and planning executive Marcel Acosta to the transit agency's board in January. Federal officials described the appointments as an urgent move in the face of a leadership vacuum, budget deficits and widespread safety concerns at Metro.

Congress mandated that the Metro board have four federal members in 2008 legislation that authorized $1.5 billion in federal funds for safety-related capital improvements at Metro over the next 10 years. The board currently has 14 members and alternates from Northern Virginia, the District and Maryland. It would expand to 16 with the additional federal appointees.

Downey said identifying people with the necessary knowledge and qualifications is not easy. "It's hard to find people," he said.

"There are a lot of hang ups with conflicts of interest, with people who are federally employed," he said, adding, "I am soldiering on, but I could use some help."

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