Image by Tom Barnes used with permission.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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:

  1. Copies of all guidance, memorandums, or directives to WMATA personnel concerning interactions with the OIG.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

You can read the full letter here.

Joanne Tang is a Northern Virginia native and a graduate student in public administration and policy, focusing on resiliency and emergency response. She lives in Alexandria and enjoys learning about pretty much everything, including the history of pencils. 

Travis Maiers spent most of his life in South Florida before moving to the Washington region in 2009. He has a degree in International Studies from American University and works at a DC non-profit focused on international economic policy. He currently resides in the Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and enjoys learning about all things related to transportation and urban planning.