New audit criticizes how FTA handles Metro funds

WASHINGTON — If the Federal Transit Administration made some changes to its oversight, Metro could get quicker access to cash, a new audit says.

The agency has often had to mail hard copies of invoices to an FTA contractor who reviews and approves them.

An audit of FTA oversight found issues with the way it works in Chicago and Miami, including errors in some funding approvals. The audit recommends a national policy for governing transit systems with financial troubles.

Metro is facing long-term projected budget shortfalls without significant increases in regional or federal funding. This year has been below budget on both the operating and capital sides.

Metro has consistently underspent its capital funds for years as planned track fixes, construction and other projects were not completed as scheduled.

While the federal government contributes millions to the capital budget, the operating budget — which pays for salaries, power and other costs of running trains and buses — is funded by riders and regional tax dollars.

Metro Board Chairman and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans got in a shouting match at the hearing with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows. Evans reiterated his emphatic call for the federal government to contribute $300 million toward operating expenses.

Meadows and Florida Rep. John Mica said they would not bail out a system Mica called a “screwed up mess.”

At a congressional hearing this week, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton pressed the FTA to make it easier for Metro to deal with some of the restrictions on how Metro accesses federal grant money it is already owed for capital projects.

“You have so delayed WMATA getting funds … that it has had to do short-term borrowing,” she said.

Metro has started to trim the amounts owed on its lines of credit since last year.

The FTA says Metro could return to regular grant procedures by the end of this year, where federal money is provided to Metro without the need for upfront receipts or other invoices, but that is only if Metro follows through to pass remaining checks as part of the financial management oversight.

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