Geoff Cherrington was working as an internal watchdog at the State Department when a recruiter called, asking whether he’d be interested in taking his investigative know-how to Metro as the agency’s new inspector general.
“I said I didn’t even know Metro had an IG, which is probably a problem in and of itself,” Cherrington said of the February phone call. “I remember laughing and saying, ‘Well, I think Metro needs an IG.’ . . . I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that Metro has its problems.”
Cherrington took the job and now faces the challenge of uncovering corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency as the agency tries to right itself after decades of neglect. As only the second inspector general in Metro’s 40-year history, he wants to raise the office’s profile and intensify investigations of fraud, such as by contractors.
“What drives me is, I can’t stand an entrenched bureaucracy where things don’t work, where things have always been that way and it’s at the expense of the taxpayer,” Cherrington said.
A lot of people would say that’s a perfect description of Metro.
Cherrington arrives with a record of success, including overseeing the investigation into an infamous General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas in 2010. The four-day team-building event cost $823,000.
That investigation “literally changed the way the federal government spends on travel and conferences,” according to the Federal Criminal Investigators Association, which named Cherrington its 2013 Investigator of the Year.
Cherrington also is accustomed to controversy, having been active in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
Metro board members are wishing Cherrington well, partly because of the potential impact of his work on the agency’s reputation with the region’s governments and Congress. Any progress improving Metro’s performance and accountability would help convince skeptics that the agency is on the right track and deserves the billions in extra funding it is seeking.
“He brings a new perspective and a great deal of professional energy to the job,” said Metro board member Corbett Price, who sits on the committee that oversees the inspector general. “He will play a role in looking at our cost structure and making sure we get the greatest value for our money.”
Cherrington, 50, started the job April 17. He succeeded Helen Lew, who retired after attracting little public attention in 10 years in the post. One reason: Her office seldom publicized details of its fraud and corruption investigations unless they resulted in criminal prosecution.
Cherrington wants to make more of those cases public, partly to encourage employees and the public to alert him to problems that need investigation. He urged people to phone, email or write the Metro hotline, which the IG office manages. It receives about 400 tips a year, of which about 1 in 10 leads to cases.
“If the public sees things that make them want to shake their heads and say, ‘Look what I just observed — this is ridiculous,’ I think they need to contact our hotline,” he said.
But he promised to be proactive, regardless of whether he hears from the public.
“We can’t be the Maytag repairman, waiting for the next hotline call,” he said. “We are going to use police techniques, old-fashioned gumshoe policing, and advanced technology.”
Cherrington has a staff of 34, including 2o auditors and seven investigators. He is one of only three Metro employees who report directly to the board; the other two are General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and board corporate secretary Jennifer Green-Ellison.
Board member Jim Corcoran, chairman of the panel’s Audits and Investigations Committee, said he was pleased that Cherrington was quickly establishing contact with Metro managers and focusing on matters of importance to the agency.
Cherrington is “working on priority issues, which could have severe impact on the organization,” Corcoran said, without providing details.
Lew was criticized for devoting resources to low-priority targets, such as whether Metro employees were improperly parking in reserved spaces in the agency headquarters parking garage. Jackie L. Jeter, president of Metro’s largest union, accused Lew in January of ignoring workplace concerns raised by union members.
Cherrington said he plans to probe various forms of contract fraud, which he targeted repeatedly in nearly 33 years in the federal government. Those included stints as an investigator for the U.S. Army and the Departments of Defense and Agriculture, as well as with GSA and State.
He investigated flaws in the Osprey helicopter program, the illegal export of American night-vision goggle technology to China, and poor performance at military health clinics. He once walked out onto an Army golf course in Germany to tell the officers he was shutting it down because of crooked deals with vendors.
“Fraud and corruption don’t ever single one agency out,” Cherrington said. “Where there’s money, there’s often fraud, and if it exists, we want to find it.”
Looking at his career so far, he was amused that he drew the most recognition for his investigation of the GSA’s Las Vegas boondoggle and its $823,000 price tag, whereas previously he “worked these billion-dollar weapons system cases that never made a little blurb in any newspaper.”
He wouldn’t talk about his work at State on the Clinton email server, except to say that the FBI handled the classified material in that case.
In addition to investigating fraud, Cherrington will conduct internal audits of finances and operations. He says his primary goal is to be cost-effective.
“I would like to get a return on investment for this office where we’re bringing back far more than it costs,” he said.