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Sarles: Metro is ’embracing’ audit critical of its handling of federal money

Commuters departing a Metro train at McPherson Square.( Commuters departing a Metro train at McPherson Square.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles told the agency’s board of directors Monday that the transit authority is “embracing” an audit report critical of Metro’s handling of federal grant money and said his formal response to the report will not dispute any of its findings.

A 50-page draft of the report, commissioned by the the Federal Transit Administration and finished last month, criticizes Metro’s handling of federal grant money from April 2012 to March 2013. It says Metro awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts, skirted contracting rules and appeared to steer work to a preferred vendor who lacked expertise.

Metro’s response to the draft, which is due by the end of this week, will be included in the final report, which probably will be issued in May.

Discussing the agency’s forthcoming response in a meeting with the board of directors Monday morning, Sarles and his chief financial officer, Carol Kissel, said the problems resulted from poor financial systems that were in place before Sarles and his team took control of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 2010.

He said a longterm overhaul of Metro’s financial systems began soon after he arrived but had not been completed in time to prevent the problems specified in the report.

Kissel, who arrived in 2009, said she found WMATA’s financial department “in a state of chaos,” likening it to “a ship without navigation.” She said its procurement and accounting systems were riddled with weaknesses and overseen by managers, since departed, who were unqualified.

In meeting with the board, Kissel, Sarles and other managers laid out numerous corrective measures they said have been underway since before the audit was conducted and will continue in the months ahead.

“We do not dispute any of the … findings,” Sarles told the board, saying that the agency, when he became general manager, was a “hunkered down and bunkered organization” that not only had mismanaged the maintenance of Metro’s rail and bus system, but also had not properly updated or monitored its financial systems.

Paul Duggan covers the Metro system and transportation issues for The Washington Post.



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