Press Releases

National Capital Region Members Send Letter to the Government Accountability Office Requesting Report on WMATA

f t # e
Washington, February 23, 2017 | comments

Today, U.S. Representative Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) along with U.S. Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), John Delaney (MD-06), Don Beyer (VA-08), Anthony Brown (MD-04), and Jamie Raskin (MD-08) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a report on the effectiveness of governance and dedicated funding structures of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

“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 Members wrote. “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.”

The National Capital Region delegation has pushed for aggressive Congressional oversight, met with community stakeholders, and demanded answers from WMATA leadership on repeated safety lapses. Last week, the entire congressional delegation representing the National Capital Region introduced bipartisan legislation to set up the Metro Safety Commission. This compact has been enacted by the D.C. Council; it is under active consideration in the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies and must be approved by Congress. Full text of the letter can be found below.

February 23, 2017

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General of the United States
Government Accountability Office
441 G St. NW, Room 7125
Washington, D.C. 20548


Dear Mr. Dodaro:

            We write as a bicameral group to request a report on the effectiveness of governance and funding structures of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Among us we comprise almost every House and Senate member representing the footprint of the D.C. Metro, including members who sit on both House and Senate authorizing committees.

            Metro’s immediate safety challenges have been the focus of in-depth attention in recent years from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Transit Administration, and others. The three WMATA jurisdictions and Congress are now poised to enact the needed compact legislation to set up the Metro Safety Commission, a new State Safety Oversight (SSO) body that will replace the ineffective Tri-State Oversight Committee whose oversight was seized by the Federal Transit Administration under the authority of MAP-21. In addition, congressional oversight hearings have questioned whether WMATA is optimally organized to meet the operational, management, and investment challenges facing this key transportation asset in the National Capital Region. We are also focused on how to best fund and finance WMATA in the years ahead.

The WMATA Compact provides for 16 representatives (8 principals and 8 alternates) appointed by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. Among other things, the Compact establishes a jurisdictional veto option; enshrines the obligation of compact members to fund the transit authority; and provides for binding arbitration for certain labor agreements. The qualifications and selection process for membership on the WMATA board is determined by the three state jurisdictions, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, and the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The way each party to the Compact meets its funding obligations for operating and capital expenses varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. And while not direct parties to the Compact, other regional and local planning bodies and the private sector also have interests in WMATA’s decision-making given the importance of the system to the National Capital Region’s economy and infrastructure.

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. 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.

In particular, we request analysis of the following issues:

  • 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 Act;
  • 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;
  • Whether or not WMATA’s costs related to salaries, wages, overtime; and benefits are growing at a rate measurably different than in comparable unionized transit systems.

Our staff contacts are below. We request that you contact our staff at your earliest convenience to discuss how long the analysis will take, interim updates, or other clarifying questions or discussion about the scope of this request. We also ask that you conduct this work in an expeditious manner and with the urgency that the situation clearly demands. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

f t # e