Metro board reacts to critical audit

WASHINGTON — Members of the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Executive Board gathered to work out a formal response to a recent audit from the Federal Transit Administration. The 50- page report — obtained by the Washington Post before it was finalized — is critical of how WMATA’s finance department handles grant money.

The review was done between April 2012 and March 2013 and questioned millions of dollars worth of contracts. Inspectors found that in some cases, contracting rules were not followed, including no-bid contracts and the awarding of jobs to contractors that lacked the in-house expertise to perform them.

“We are embracing the recommendations and we are taking the corrective actions necessary to implement each and everyone of them,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said to the board. He says they do not dispute any of the FTA’s findings.

“Just like the rebuilding of our infrastructure is not complete, neither is our internal rebuilding complete,” he said.

Metro will send its response to the FTA by the end of the week. It will be published with the final version of its report, which will be released in coming months.

Carol Kissel, Metro’s chief financial officer, says that when she joined WMATA in 2009, it was a “ship without a navigator.” She says the problems stem from a system put in place in 2007, and work continues to fix it.

“Today, we have a finance department that is operating on a completely different level — with a set course and a direction.”

The report also detailed two instances in which the federal government was over- billed for expenditures. Sarles, who took the reins at WMATA in 2010, says a new automated system will help prevent that.

“The current new grants are in that system. Now, we’ve had to go back and clean up grants that were going back as far as 2007 and manually go through and make sure that we don’t over-bill the government,” he says.

Members of the board also voiced concern over the report.

“As a federal board member and as someone who worked in this field of federal grants management for years, i’m embarrassed,” said Metro board member Mortimer Downey. “I am committed to fixing these issues because I know they are fixable.”

Sarles says Metro will deal with these issues as they have with issues in areas such as safety in recent years.

“You face them, and you deal with them, you make a decision and move forward,” he says.

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