Regional Delegation Asks GAO for Metro Recommendations

The region’s congressional delegation has request the federal Government Accountably Office take a deep dive into the structure, management and funding sources of the Washington Metropolitan Washington Metro Authority Compact.

WMATA runs the region’s bus and rail services and has long been the target of criticism safety failures, operational mismanagement and financial unsustainability.

“As we look for ways to ensure that WMATA continues to serve the National Capital Region—as a key transportation provider every day, including during events of national significance and times of crisis—we would benefit from expert analysis by GAO on the nexus of safety and operational management, governance, and dedicated funding,” the delegation wrote.

The congressional leaders requested the GAO focus six key areas of interest:

  • To what extent intersecting challenges of safety and funding are attributable to inadequate funding versus inadequate performance (and if the latter, to what extent the challenge is related to management shortcomings, dearth of workforce training, or unsatisfactory workforce performance);
  • To what extent, if any, the structure or operation of WMATA’s Board of Directors contributes to challenges with safe or reliable operation, and what changes, if any, would improve governance of WMATA;
  • An assessment of the current funding sources among the three state jurisdictions and the federal government, whether relative funding allocations align with the factors prescribed in the Compact, and what changes are feasible to ensure more reliable dedicated revenue after the expiration of the funds authorized in the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement;
  • What Metrorail’s long-term funding needs are for both adequate and optimal service, including capital and operating budgets, and including pension liabilities and health benefit costs;
  • What factors account for cost overruns of major capital projects and how these factors might be mitigated in the future; and
  • Whether WMATA’s costs related to salaries, wages, overtime, and benefits are growing at a rate measurably different than in comparable unionized transit systems.

“Previous GAO reports have lent insight into these issues, but we believe a comprehensive analysis would be worthwhile in providing an objective picture of where WMATA is on these fronts and where it should be going in the future,” they wrote.

The request was made by U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD-5), Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) along with Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large), John Sarbanes (D-MD-3), Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11), John Delaney (D-MD-6), Don Beyer (D-VA-8), Anthony Brown (D-MD-4), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD-8).

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10) was not a signatory to the request. Spokesman Jeff Marschner said she has made WMATA reforms a high priority, but does not believe another study is needed to begin addressing them.

“The Congresswoman is working on much needed legislation to bring fundamental changes to Metro. We appreciate the request for yet another report, but we have a running list of nearly 40 different reports on Metro from the last ten years.  These reports are from NTSB, FTA, NVTC, WMATA, MWCoG, the American Enterprise Institute—even a number of reports from GAO, which is the same source the members are sending their request to,” Marschner said.

He said she is working closely on the issues with Federal City Council, led by former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams; James Dyke, who has served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board and was co-chair of the Joint Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Governance Review; and representatives of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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