WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski ( both D-Md.) today announced new legislation (S. 2093) with Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), that would improve safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) has been passed today by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs (HSGAC). The legislation, which was introduced on September 29, would alter the way members of the Metro Board of Directors are appointed.
“It’s time we shake things up at Metro and make sure the right people are in charge of making the right decisions that impact safety and reliability,” said Senator Cardin. “The federal government invests a great deal of money and time into Metro for good reason: our people rely on it, along with passengers, tourists, workers, students and others from across the National Capital Region. I am a strong supporter of Metro, which is why I support making real changes that will make a real difference in how WMATA functions daily and for the long-term.”
“I will not rest until Metro produces safety results,” said Senator Mikulski, who fought to get the first-ever federal rail transit safety standards passed into law. “Enough is enough. I have demanded new leadership and a new culture of safety at Metro. This legislation gives the U.S. Transportation Secretary the authority to name federal representatives to the Metro Board. We need strong leadership on the Board to attract strong leadership at Metro.”
“It’s clear that Metro needs a shake-up that starts at the top, and strong federal oversight is key to that effort,” said Sen. Warner. “Allowing the federal government’s top transit experts to select the federal nominees to the Metro board may appear to be a relatively minor step, but it clearly is a commonsense reform.”
“Metro’s challenges are partly about funding and technology, but largely about lack of leadership,” said Senator Kaine. “This bill makes a common-sense change – giving the power to appoint federal members of the WMATA board to the federal department that’s actually in charge of transportation. I look forward to working with Sen. Warner and our colleagues from Maryland to get this important measure passed.”
The legislation would make an important change to the way that individuals are selected to fill federal appointments to the Metro Board of Directors. Currently, the federal government’s two principal directors and two alternate directors on the Board are selected by the General Services Administration (GSA), an agency with no transportation mandate. This legislation would transfer this authority from GSA to DOT in order to ensure that experts in transportation policy will be responsible for choosing who will represent the federal government on the Metro Board.
In July, Senators Cardin, Mikulski, Warner and Kaine introduced an amendment to the Senate’s surface transportation bill that would have altered the way federal appointments are made to the Metro board, transferring authority from GSA to DOT. In addition, it would have established minimum safety standards for the operations of the nation’s aging transit systems. Their amendment would have expanded the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) authority to include all aspects of safety – not solely safety standards for rail cars. It also would have given the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary authority to issue emergency orders imposing restriction and prohibition to troubled metro systems to prevent death, injury or environmental harm. Unfortunately, this amendment was prevented from being considered because of procedural roadblocks.
Senators Cardin, Mikulski, Warner and Kaine have all been outspoken advocates for Metro safety. Senator Mikulski’s bill, the National Metro Safety Act of 2009, which was cosponsored by Cardin, Warner and Kaine, established the first-ever Federal rail transit safety standard and served as the basis for safety legislation ultimately signed into law directing the Secretary of transportation to develop safety standards for all rail systems and take into consideration recommendations by the NTSB. Following the fatal smoke incident onboard a Metro train at L’Enfant station, Senator Warner asked the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and WMATA to work together to design a more robust and transparent process for ensuring the interoperability of radio networks used by the region’s emergency responders. In response, COG and WMATA pledged to implement a system for testing of Metro and regional emergency radio systems in order to address the breakdown in communications that was identified following the fatal incident on January 12.
In support of Metro resources, Senator Cardin, as a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, was instrumental in passing legislation in 2008 authorizing $1.5 billion in federal funds over 10 years to help improve Metro’s aging infrastructure, providing Metro’s first dedicated federal funding source. In her leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski has put $150 million in the federal checkbook for the last seven years to improve Metro’s safety and operational reliability. Senator Mikulski has fought to maintain this full annual funding authorized for Metro. The U.S. DOT has strict oversight as to how WMATA spends this federal funding – prioritizing the recommendations of the NTSB and FTA.