“Ed has built a reputation for safety through a consistent and deep commitment over decades that ‘no one gets hurt on our watch,’” Metro Vice President of the Rail Operations Control Center and Strategic Transformation Andrew Off said in a memo obtained by The Washington Post. “His leadership approach embraces just culture, collaboration, and effective dialogue with his team, as well as extensive technical knowledge.”
He will receive a yearly salary of $205,000.
Donaldson replaces interim director Allison Hall-King and arrives amid leadership shake-ups following a scathing control center safety audit in September that revealed a host of safety and workplace issues.
Metro has been criticized for its delayed responses and miscommunication during emergencies.
In early September, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, an independent agency created by Congress to oversee Metrorail safety, published an audit that showed widespread problems in the ROCC. They included claims that many employees found the workplace environment “toxic” with some saying they were subjected to sexual and racial harassment, bullying and threats. The control center was also found to be understaffed, causing controllers to suffer from fatigue and having to work several days in a row.
The audit also said ROCC managers routinely ignored safety guidelines and pushed employees to get the transit system back up and running after emergencies, sometimes endangering emergency workers responding to incidents and other personnel on the tracks.
Many of the issues had been previously cited by the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board after investigations into major mishaps including a 2009 Red Line collision that killed nine people and injured several others and the 2015 fire outside L’Enfant Plaza that overwhelmed subway cars with smoke and killed one passenger.
The lack of progress in fixing these problems prompted a reprimand from all four of Maryland and Virginia’s senators, while one Metro board member has suggested that the entire transit agency’s leadership should be restructured.
Metro has made several leadership changes in response to the audit. In June, then-ROCC Director Deltrin Harris was reassigned to overseeing the Silver, Orange and Blue lines and replaced temporarily by Hall-King while the transit agency began a nationwide search for a director. Last month, the transit agency temporarily reassigned Lisa Woodruff, Metro’s senior vice president for rail services, to become a technical adviser while Metro investigates a safety commission finding that she attempted to manipulate what ROCC employees told auditors.
Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader no longer oversees the ROCC, which now falls under the purview of Wiedefeld and Off, who had been in charge of Metro’s construction projects.
On Thursday, Off, now vice president of the ROCC, announced new senior management appointments to “strengthen our safety culture and improve collaborative leadership,” according to a separate internal memo obtained by The Post. Candice Thomas, a performance maintenance officer, was named acting ROCC assistant director. Danielle Tillman, a onetime ROCC controller, was promoted from assistant superintendent to superintendent.
Even with the hiring of Donaldson, Off said the ROCC will continue to report directly to Wiedefeld until at least 2022, underscoring the priority Metro has now made in changing ROCC culture.
Despite the problems, Wiedefeld said ROCC employees have been working admirably under difficult circumstances. For months, Metro split the staff into two separate control rooms that operated in intervals to prevent the entire staff from possible coronavirus outbreaks. In August, an ROCC manager, Joseph Reid, died of covid-19 — the first and only Metro employee fatality from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In more than 30 years at the FAA, Donaldson moved up through the ranks from air traffic controller to director of safety and deputy vice president of Air Traffic Services, according to Metro.
In his current position, the transit agency said, he oversees three divisions and a staff of 70. Donaldson’s role requires him to enact congressional mandates for air security, and he coordinates air traffic safety with 17 other agencies, Metro said.
Off said Donaldson has been intentional in his commitment to employing a diverse staff and has recruited, hired and promoted “racially diverse working groups of men and women within FAA.”
Donaldson holds a bachelor’s degree in professional aeronautics and served in the Marine Corps, Air Force and Air National Guard. He retired from the military in 2005 after 20 years of combined active-duty and Guard service.
During that stint, he spent time under the command of Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley. Wherley and his wife, Ann, were among those killed in the 2009 Red Line collision, Metro said.
“Ed had a personal connection to General Wherley and believes that improving safety culture is a way to honor his memory,” Off said.
Off said Donaldson will report directly to him.
“I look forward to working with a leader of Ed’s caliber as he becomes acquainted with our team and rail operations control at Metro next month,” he said.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed some statements to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld. The statements were made by Metro Vice President Andrew Off.