At a public hearing on Monday, Metro officials said they will move swiftly to address concerns raised by a recent federal oversight report that painted a troubling picture of the agency, saying it awarded millions in no-bid contracts, skirted contracting rules and appeared to steer work to a preferred vendor who lacked the proper expertise.
But the transit authority’s riders and the general public aren’t the only ones demanding answers. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is asking that the agency tell Congress how they plan to fix the issues that surfaced in the federal report.
In strongly worded letters (see below) to Metro chief Richard Sarles and Metro Board Chairman Tom Downs, Mikulski warns that the authority could lose federal funding if it does not change its handling of taxpayer dollars.
“You need to know that future dedicated funding for Metro is in real jeopardy,” Mikulski wrote.
That is no idle threat. Federal funds make up almost $500 million of Metro’s overall $3 billion budget, including nearly half the money it spends annually on projects to expand and upgrade its rail system, the second-largest municipal system in the country.
“Metro must not only respond to the FTA’s audit but it must provide answers to Congress,” Mikulski continued. “I want to know your plan to correct these problems. What procedures and protocols are you going to implement? What is the timetable for implementation? How will you make sure these new reforms are adhered to moving forward?”
During a public hearing held Monday, Sarles said the authority agreed with the recommendations offered in the report. But he blamed the shortcomings in the authority’s financial management systems on a previous administration, saying it left the agency in a state of near dysfunction. He said while he had been in his job for two years by the time the audit was completed, most of his energies were focused on infrastructure problems and safety issues, particularly failings cited in a federal report following a 2009 train crash on the Red Line that killed nine people.
Mikulski has been a staunch supporter of federal funding for the Metro system, but she has also been among the authority’s harshest critics.