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Metro engineers lacked licenses

IG report on transit agency raises compliance questions

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The lack of required engineering certification didn't prevent three high-level engineering managers from getting jobs at Washington's $2.2 billion transit operation.

A previously undisclosed internal review at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) found that three of its engineers did not have engineering certifications from Maryland, Virginia or the District.

One of the three, an assistant chief engineer who has since retired, also had no college degree or high school diploma, although he had a general equivalency diploma (GED), according to an internal 2008 review by Metro's inspector general obtained by The Washington Times this month through an open-records request.

According to official job descriptions attached to the report, an assistant chief engineer is a senior-level manager, supervisory and engineering employee whose responsibilities include assisting the chief engineer in "planning, organizing, directing and controlling the development and implementation of engineering and construction projects for Metrorail and Metro bus."

The man with a GED, who was promoted to the position of assistant chief engineer in the fall of 2005, cited personal reasons for not getting certification. He later told the inspector general's office that he had advised the head of a job selection committee that he wasn't willing to obtain certification.

"All three of the individuals named in the complaint lack a professional engineering registration from one of the WMATA compact jurisdictions," the report concludes, raising questions about whether Metro's engineering office was in compliance with certification requirements.

In releasing the records to The Times, Metro officials withheld the names of the employees who lacked engineering certification, citing personal privacy and other exemptions under Metro's open-records policies.

A spokeswoman for Metro said the transit agency's policy is that only people with appropriate certification are permitted to sign or seal engineering documents and plans.

"It is not uncommon in our industry for there to be staff in engineering groups who learned their trade as young people (some coming from military service) and apprenticed in the field," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein wrote in an e-mail to The Times.

"Many such skilled and capable individuals worked their way up the ranks to senior management positions. Metro also has more classically educated engineers and engineers who have their [professional engineer] certifications," she wrote.

There's no indication that any safety lapses were tied to the performance of any of the engineers. During its review, the inspector general's office noted that an unnamed person at the engineering office had said he or she read the position description as not requiring licensure.

That person said an employee "need only have the 'ability' to become registered and that those in the jobs take a training program at Metro on-the-job to demonstrate their 'ability' to become registered as professional engineers," the report said.

The inspector general's review began in September 2007 with an anonymous tip alleging that the three employees in the department of operation services for Metro's office of engineering support services did not have engineering certification required for the jobs.

Of the employees cited in the inspector general's report, Ms. Farbstein noted, "Those individuals were shifted to other assignments and given the opportunity to earn their PE certification in order to retain their job titles. One individual did exactly that. A second individual retired. A third individual remained in a position that does not require the certification."

She said the person who retired was the one who did not have the high school diploma or college degree.

Of the two others — an assistant chief engineer and a manager of engineering — one had a professional engineering certificate from Texas, and another held two master's-level degrees, in physics and electrical power engineering.

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