Inspector general: Fake labels on electrical parts used in Metro car maintenance

A Metro train is seen in this WTOP file photo. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — The middle-aged rail cars Metro is phasing out due to poor performance have had potentially fraudulent parts installed on them for years.

A newly released report from the Office of Inspector General finds the parts a company repackaged as its own were used for what should have been critical repairs.

Metro’s 5000 Series cars have been perennially more prone to breakdowns than most others in the fleet, which has led the agency to plan to retire the cars by the end of the year.

By 2010, an electrical part used to transfer power from the third rail to the car had begun to “routinely and catastrophically” fail in 2010, the report of investigation said. 

Metro engineers brought in an electronics company to deal with the issue, and it suggested pairing the insulated gate bipolar transistor with another part.

“The OIG investigation revealed the company misrepresented the IGBTs as their own by physically altering the exterior housing and providing product literature, potentially in violation of the original manufacturer’s copyright,” the report said.

The company essentially became a “sole source” supplier of the parts without significant oversight.

Metro engineers simply relied on the company’s claims, so the issue was not identified until a procurement office worker raised concerns that the Vehicle Program Services office had recently rejected the lowest bid for a new order of the transistors.

As of Jan. 19, when the report was issued, Metro had spent or committed $605,262 to the company the inspector general’s office believes provided the repackaged parts. Federal prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, the OIG said.

The Jan. 19 report only became public Thursday when a Metro Board committee approved the publication of a semiannual summary of the OIG’s actions.

That semiannual report also included a variety of other disclosures such as a Metro manager fired after an investigation sparked by a tip found the person, multiple times, spent more than half of the work day conducting personal business.

Other concerns included $7.3 million Metro tried to charge a MetroAccess contractor for missing scheduled trips, a charge that may not have been permitted under the contract, and an additional employee Metro required the contractor to use to assist with MetroAccess policy and planning.

From January through June, the OIG also recommended $944,829 in adjustments on $12,692,387 in contracting proposals, raising concerns about certain consultant and other contractor spending.

Another report questioned Metro’s policy of providing nonunion employees with a full year of vacation time at the start of each year or, prorated, when they are hired, since Metro pays workers who leave the agency for any reason for each of those unused days.

While Metro is changing policies to potentially require a vesting period before the days can be paid out, the agency paid 429 nonunion employees for a total of more than 37,000 hours of leave not directly earned in 2016 and 2017. Those payments added up to nearly $2 million, and included payments to 23 people who worked for less than a year.

One person worked nine days in March 2017, but got $5,171.15 in leave payments for the rest of the year. Another worked 16 days that September and got $1,019.03 in leave payments the rest of the year.

Of the nonunion employees who left Metro in 2016 and 2017, 19 employed less than one year resigned, while four were fired. Two employed one to three years retired, 30 were fired, 53 resigned and two died. And 183 employed more than three years retired, 62 retired, 70 resigned and four died, the audit said.

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