Metro has narrowed its search for a new general manager to two candidates and, meanwhile, has hired a pair of consulting firms to begin an overhaul of the agency’s troubled financial and management systems, officials said Tuesday.
As Metro struggles to regain its footing after chronic subway failures and revelations of deep financial problems in recent months, the beleaguered transit authority appears to be just days from choosing its next chief executive, according to the top transportation officials in Maryland and Virginia.
“I know they’re close to making a decision,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said Tuesday. “I know there are two candidates. I don’t know who they are. But from where we stand, let’s hope there’s a decision very soon.”
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn also said that the Metro board’s four-member executive committee has winnowed the field of applicants to two finalists. “I don’t know who those two are,” Rahn said.
He added: “They really have been keeping a tight lid on names. But I know that two people, in the not-too-distant future, will be presented to the full board for a final selection.”
Two other Washington-area transportation experts familiar with the search identified one of the finalists as Paul J. Wiedefeld, who was ousted in July as chief executive of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Wiedefeld, who was BWI’s top official from 2002 to 2005, was chosen to head the Maryland Transit Administration in 2007 by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). Wiedefeld returned to the BWI post in 2009, then was fired after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) took office this year.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Wiedefeld would not comment on whether he is a candidate for the Metro job. “I’m applying for lots of jobs,” he said.
The four members of the Metro board’s executive committee either did not return phone messages Tuesday or declined to discuss the search. The board said several months ago that its goal was to hire a new chief executive by November.
“Like Yogi Berra said, it’ll be over when it’s over,” said Metro board chairman Mortimer L. Downey, who also heads the executive committee. “My hope is to get it done soon. But I can’t guarantee it. When we get there, we’ll let people know.”
Meanwhile Tuesday, Metro announced it has hired two consulting firms — McKinsey & Company and Ernst & Young — at a cost of nearly $3 million to conduct a “top to bottom” review of the agency’s management and financial systems.
The firms will work jointly to develop a “strategic plan” for Metro to make significant changes in the way the agency operates the region’s trouble-plagued subway system and how it monitors revenue and spending, the transit agency said.
The review is aimed at creating “a blueprint to make Metro a better-run” transit system, Downey said in a statement.
“By identifying opportunities for efficiency and accountability, we will have a clear road map for the board and the new general manager that can move us forward toward a more reliable and more customer-responsive transit system,” Downey said.
The two firms will not be the only consultants working with Metro in coming months.
“At the board’s request, Metro is also issuing a [contract] solicitation for proposals for a strategic executive adviser,” the agency said. “The adviser will be charged with developing strategies for the board and the new general manager to implement key findings” by McKinsey & Company and Ernst & Young, with the goal “to make Metro more financially sustainable and work with the general manager to effect any restructuring.”
The bid-solicitation for the contract awarded to McKinsey & Company and Ernst & Young was issued in July, with Metro seeking help in analyzing “current business processes,” including “financial management, human resources, communications, information technology” and other functions.
Members of Metro’s board, who have been at odds for months over how best to restructure the agency, agreed in September to also seek a “strategic executive adviser” to help the transit agency overhaul its management and workplace culture, based on the eventual findings of McKinsey & Company and Ernst & Young.
Metro’s protracted search for a new general manager has been a bumpy process almost from the beginning, after former general manager Richard Sarles announced his impending retirement in September 2014. He left the agency in January.
The board initially was focused on hiring a traditional transit executive who is grounded in engineering and the day-to-day operation of a transportation agency. But the process collapsed in February amid revelations of significant financial problems in Metro and changes in top political leadership in Maryland and the District.
After they took office in January, Hogan and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) made it clear that they wanted Metro’s next general manager to have a proven track record in financial management.
While Metro struggled with financial problems, it also had to deal with several major operational failures, including a fatal Jan. 12 incident in which a stalled train in a Yellow Line tunnel was engulfed in smoke from an electrical malfunction on the tracks. Scores of passengers were sickened, and one died of respiratory failure.
Amid those breakdowns, the administration of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) continued to maintain that the next general manager should be a transportation professional highly experienced in fostering a culture of safety.
Layne and Rahn said Tuesday that the Metro board’s eight voting members — two each representing the Maryland, Virginia, District and federal governments — agreed to focus on candidates with both financial and transportation experience when the aborted search process began anew during the spring.
The financial aspect is still paramount for Maryland.
“The ideal candidate would have some background in transportation as well as a financial background,” Rahn said. “That’s the ideal. The question is, when you get to the real world, who is interested? And what mix does that person bring? I’ve stressed I want both. But of the two, I guess I would say that a financial background is mandatory.”
The operational aspect remains most important for Virginia.
“Transit experience would be great, but it doesn’t have to be transit,” Layne said. “It has to be someone who has run a transportation organization — an aviation agency or an airport — some kind of organization where there is a day-to-day focus on passenger safety and the value of a strong safety culture.”
The two agreed on this:
“They’ve got to finish this process,” Layne said of the search. “It’s taken so long to reach a decision, and the delay pretty obviously has not been helpful to the organization.”
Lori Aratani contributed to this report.