Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, was D.C. mayor from 1999 to 2007. He is chief executive and executive director of the Federal City Council.
One year ago, our region was on the brink of a historic moment. Regional leaders came together to provide Metro with the $500 million in additional, annual, dedicated funding needed to support the future safety, reliability and vitality of the system.
The Federal City Council and other regional stakeholders celebrated this moment and the commitment it signaled to ensuring that Metro remains the backbone of our regional transportation network and our economy. But we saw the funding commitment as an incremental success, a critical first step toward putting Metro on a safe, smart and sustainable path but far from a panacea.
In addition to dedicated funding, it has been our long-standing position that Metro requires a reestablished framework to guide decision-making and accountability. This need was apparent before the new funding sources were committed and is even more pronounced now. To ensure that the dedicated funding will have the desired impact on the system, and to truly ensure success for Metro, it must be coupled with additional reforms that will ensure improved accountability and sound decision-making for the system.
While we acknowledge and appreciate progress toward addressing long-standing operational issues, we also recognize that effective staff leadership at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority can go only so far in the context of the fundamental limitations facing the system. Ultimately, limitations on effective oversight and decision-making for Metro are rooted in the WMATA Compact. The compact, which governs the operations, policymaking and institutional structure of Metro, is ill-equipped to ensure decision-making that meets the demands of our regional system. We believe the compact must be revised, but we are not sanguine that the seeds of alignment are present to achieve such action in the foreseeable future.
However, in the near term, we believe that there is a solution that will establish the necessary framework for oversight and accountability for Metro.
This solution is a set of enhancements that would improve accountability, ensure sound decision-making and inspire confidence in Metro’s ability to maintain its position as the most critical component of our regional transportation network: enhancements to the Metro Office of Inspector General and to the process by which decisions related to the expenditure of bond proceeds are made. These enhancements would include increased, independent oversight of the day-to-day activities and financial oversight of Metro and would be forward-looking to ensure effective planning and operations and backward-looking to ensure accountability. The office would provide strong reassurance that critical financial functions were administered with the requisite independence and transparency while insulating those functions and decisions from political influence. Further, these activities would ensure confidence among taxpayers, riders and government leaders that Metro’s funding was spent efficiently and effectively.
Just as legislation was the vehicle through which the region was able to secure dedicated funding for Metro, so, too, can legislation serve as the path toward enhanced accountability. Federal funding made available through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), through which Metro receives capital funding from the federal government, needs to be reauthorized this year. And, just as D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and those in the D.C. Council and Maryland and Virginia legislatures stepped up to ensure Metro was put on a positive path forward in 2018, it is paramount that the regional congressional delegation come together in 2019 to reauthorize federal funding for Metro.
But, as more money is invested into the Metro system, there must be accountability measures put in place to ensure the additional funding will be well spent. Absent significant accountability reforms, funding is at risk.
Thus, we believe it is important that the legislation reauthorizing PRIIA should require Metro to implement measures that will lead to effective oversight and strong accountability within a highly complex and often nontransparent multi-jurisdictional system. Embedding this requirement and support for its implementation would support the needs of the system and safeguard the investment.
One year after the historic effort that led to the commitment of dedicated funding for Metro, the region has arrived at another pivotal moment, the response to which will be yet another signal of regional priorities and dictate the level to which Metro will be set up to successfully serve the long-term needs of the region.
The commitment that regional leaders made to Metro in the form of dedicated funding raised the stakes, reinforcing and intensifying the need for focus on the issues of oversight and accountability. Without attention to these issues, dedicated funding from the jurisdictions and historic and ongoing federal investment are at risk. To paraphrase philosopher George Santayana: Those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it.