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Congress requests audit on SafeTrack and FTA oversight

Congress sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office earlier this month, requesting that they conduct an assessment and audit on SafeTrack work and Federal Transit Administration oversight.

The House Committee on Oversight wants the Government Accountability Office to weigh in on Metro’s safety improvement work — and formulate its own opinion on whether the Federal Railroad Administration, rather than the Federal Transit Administration, should be in charge of overseeing safety on Metro.

In a letter sent earlier this month, the committee’s chairman and ranking minority-party member — along with four other members — urged the GAO to take up Metro’s case.

“We write to seek assistance from the U.S. Government Accountability Office with our oversight responsibilities of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro. “Findings will help assure that rail transit systems and federal oversight agencies provide needed services in the safest, most appropriate and cost-effective way.”

The committee’s request demonstrates a potential lack of confidence in the FTA’s inspection abilities — and in the decision-making of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Back in October, Foxx appointed the Federal Transit Authority to be responsible for ensuring safety on Metro in the interim while the jurisdictions worked to establish a revamped, more robust safety oversight body. It’s a new, expanded role for the federal agency — and in March, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board publicly aired their worries that the FTA didn’t have enough experience and heft to do the job. The NTSB urged Foxx to transfer those responsibilities to the Federal Railroad Administration instead.

NTSB: Metro has had a ‘severe learning disability’ when it comes to improving safety

Those public concerns from the NTSB have apparently piqued interest from the members of Congress, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

The request from the congressional committee included eight separate Metro-related asks, including examinations on how the Federal Transit Administration is performing in its expanded oversight role, whether Metro is in compliance with federal grant requirements, how SafeTrack will affect the long-term fiscal health and safety of the subway system, and how Metro shapes up when compared with other transit systems in the country.

The lawmakers also want the accountability agency to dig deeper into the FTA-versus-FRA question, and assess “whether FTA’s current safety oversight program has sufficient resources, technical capacity, and enforcement authority to provide the level of oversight over transit agencies necessary to ensure and improve rail safety, including in the case of WMATA.”

If the Government Accountability Office takes on the Oversight Committee’s request, it wouldn’t be the first time it has weighed in on Metro. In a report released last year, GAO staff members concluded that Metro managers needed to take steps to keep better tabs on its finances and identified “material weaknesses and significant deficiencies in internal control.”