- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III predicted yesterday that Congress will hold hearings on Metro operations to get to the bottom of problems uncovered by a Federal Transit Administration audit.

Mr. Davis, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on the District of Columbia, said findings in the FTA audit are "cause for alarm."

The audit, portions of which were first detailed in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times, reviewed Metro procedures and found the Washington transit agency violated more than half the federal regulations covering procurement.

"FTA's audit points out some troubling deficiencies in Metro's procurement practices," Mr. Davis said. "Making Metro service better is a goal we all share, and one that impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers across the region."

Metro officials, responding yesterday to The Times' article and the criticism from Capitol Hill, said the FTA audit had been misinterpreted.

"We view this report as a positive statement that we're doing most things well and that in a few areas we can do better," said Metro General Manager Richard A. White.

"We are 100 percent committed to continuing to work cooperatively with the FTA to improve how we do business," Mr. White said.

Metro officials contend the audit found the transit agency deficient in only nine of 51 procurement procedures, but documents obtained by The Times indicate that the problems are more widespread.

"We notified FTA several months ago of the steps we have already taken, and will be taking in the future, to improve in those nine areas," Mr. White said.

According to the audit, conducted by Harris Consulting for the Federal Transit Administration, Metro showed procurement violations in 31 of the 51 categories.

FTA officials said Metro already has begun addressing the problems outlined in the audit.

"[Metro] has been cooperative with the Federal Transit Administration," said FTA spokesman Bruce Frame.

Mr. Davis said Congress likely will hold an oversight hearing within the next month. Failures to set contract terms and to determine whether some contractors could do the work "is cause for alarm," Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Davis also reiterated his support for a proposed General Accounting Office (GAO) audit of Metro a more detailed investigation than the one conducted by the FTA that would delve into the agency's continuing problems with contracting and capital investments.

"There is evidence that the problems that have plagued Metro in recent months breakdowns, accidents, fires, overcrowding may be underlined by systemic shortcomings," he said.

Mr. Davis and two other local leaders Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican; and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative already have discussed the possibility of such an investigation. The representatives are considering whether to ask the GAO to investigate Metro management, operations and procurement problems.

Among the violations found in the 101 contracts reviewed were missing documents, no independent cost estimates and no cost justifications for some sole-source contracts.

Violations were found in large purchases such as new buses and rail cars and in purchases less than $100,000.

Metro board members yesterday expressed their commitment to solving these problems.

"We are determined to make these improvements … the congressman needs to know that the board itself is looking hard into these issues," said Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and a voting member of the Metro board.

"This is not a situation where you have insufficient rules or procedures," Mr. Graham said. "We have to be sure there is compliance by the staff.

"We can't have sole-source contracts without adequate justification."

The auditors also faulted Metro administrators for:

• Purchase orders that were "too vague to enforce."

• Lack of justification for sole-source procurement.

• Unsubstantiated costs paid to contractors.

• Failure to assess the capability of contractors.

• Missing or inadequate documentation of purchases.

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