WMATA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been under tight management from WMATA and stripped of power for years, and is largely toothless to recommend changes, according to the Washington Post.
This is all detailed in a letter from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
The control was so pervasive that, about five years ago, keystroke logging software was installed on OIG keyboards to improperly monitor OIG employees’ communication. WMATA’s statement, released today, blames a single, rogue employee.
Update from WMATA: “Approximately 5 years ago, an employee… inappropriately monitored communication of the OIG.” https://t.co/LN4g4xT0d9— Martine Powers (@martinepowers) November 15, 2017
The Senate committee’s letter also says that because the OIG’s computer network is not separate from WMATA, high level employees could potentially see the OIG’s work and findings.
The letter concludes, “WMATA’s apparent control over the OIG appears to limit the OIG’s ability to act independently and may ultimately hinder effective oversight and transparency of the agency.”
GGWash Editorial Board member Stephen Repetski tweeted a summary of the Senate committee’s findings:
This is extremely concerning for several reasons. The OIG is supposed to be an independent investigative body that can assess policies and performance without WMATA’s influence. It is responsible for rooting out bad management, poor practices, and corruption. In fact, the OIG is currently investigating falsified overtime reports.
While the keystroke monitoring ended before Paul Wiedefeld began his tenure at WMATA, the current IG Geoffrey Cherrington indicated to WMATA’s Riders’ Advisory Council (RAC) that a recent report was heavily redacted by WMATA lawyers, to the point where it became “useless.” He went on to question if he could be an independent IG given such constraints.
The Metro employee fired for placing illicit keyboard monitoring on the OIG under Sarles was under investigation himself/wanted to know what OIG had on him/her. As Senate letter states, keyboard monitoring predated Wiedefeld and ended under Sarles.— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 15, 2017
#BREAK: @ColinReusch, a member of Metro's Riders Advisory Council, says IG Geoff Cherrington recently spoke to the group and revealed that a yet-to-be-released report was so heavily redacted by Metro lawyers “as to be useless.” @wamu885 #wmata— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 15, 2017
Colin Reusch, the member of the RAC who shared this information, felt that such actions against OIG make him question WMATA’s commitment to having an independent inspector general at all. Certainly the fact that the current inspector general says he feels constrained is a worrying development.
To clarify: I would say those constraints call into question whether WMATA wants to have an independent inspector general. Mr. Cherrington seems intent on obtaining as much independence as possible.— Colin Reusch (@ColinReusch) November 15, 2017
But wait — that’s not all. It’s been long reported that journalists have a hard time getting Metro employees to go on the record about problems at the agency. Employees are also afraid to be whistleblowers.
WAMU's transportation reporter Martin Di Caro tweeted about the culture of paranoia and retaliation at WMATA:
Thread: When Rob Troup was assistant general manager for rail at #WMATA, he forbid subordinates from releasing information that showed poor service was hurting ridership. This is according to sources who were in the room… 1/?— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 15, 2017
… when Troup berated Lynn Bowersox about not publicizing the information, even though riders already surmised that service was deteriorating rapidly. 2/?— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 15, 2017
Metro insiders, people whom any reporter want to rely on to get unvarnished views of what's happening, are afraid to talk because leakers are hunted down, to use the words of one person. 3/?— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 15, 2017
I don't think Wiedefeld is paranoid, but a culture of paranoia remains among some people inside the Jackson Graham building.— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 15, 2017
This paranoia isn’t limited to employees dealing with journalists and WMATA’s OIG. It has a trickle down effect. Federal Transit Administration inspectors also encountered pushback and lack of cooperation from Metro employees when they were called to evaluate safety.
In this context — the OIG lacks power to investigate and publish its findings independent of WMATA’s influence — it’s not hard to interpret WMATA’s neglect to increase the OIG’s budget as a way to undermine the OIG’s work.
The Senate committee is requesting a followup meeting to address questions outlined in its letter no later than December 5. They also asked Wiedefeld for the following information:
- Copies of all guidance, memorandums, or directives to WMATA personnel concerning interactions with the OIG.
- Please explain how you have sought to ensure the WMATA OIG's independence since you were appointed General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of WMATA in November 2015.
- Please explain wether WMATA requires or expects the Inspector General to share his responses to Congressional inquiries with the Chariman or the Board of Directors before transmitting a response to Congress.
- Please explain the responsibilities for WMATA's Office of Quality Assurance, Internal Compliance and Oversight (QICO) and whether this office duplicates the responsibilities of the WMATA OIG.