- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Metro's procurement director yesterday resigned in the wake of a federal audit triggered by reports in The Washington Times.

Meanwhile, the transit authority has begun investigating its operations control center workers following reports in The Times about a runaway subway train last month.

In addition, the afternoon rush-hour commute dragged out on Metro's Red Line yesterday when the subway system was shut down between the Farragut North and Van Ness stations to let firefighters investigate the cause of smoke in a tunnel.

Francis X. "Buddy" Watson, Metro's procurement department director, resigned yesterday after being told his job would be eliminated.

The Federal Transit Administration concluded last month in its audit that the Metro procurement department had violated several federal contracting rules. The FTA also recommended that Mr. Watson's position be held at a higher rank, but instead of promoting him, Metro eliminated his job.

The FTA began its audit after The Times reported that a consultant received a $333,065 contract without the Metro board's approval. Mr. Watson was suspended for two weeks in March for his part in securing that contract.

Mr. Watson yesterday referred all questions to Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann. "How about if I leave basically with a 'no comment' approach?" Mr. Watson said. "I'll leave you to deal with them."

Mr. Feldmann said he could not comment on whether Mr. Watson resigned or was fired other than to say his position was eliminated in a reorganization recommended by the FTA. "I can't go into a discussion about it. It is a personnel matter," he said. "We wish him luck in his future endeavors."

"The director's position in procurement is being abolished as part of a realignment," Mr. Feldmann said. "It is one of the recommendations that came out of the FTA review of our procurement process. They felt the procurement function should have a higher place in the authority's chain of command, that the position was too far down in terms of the organizational structure."

Mr. Feldmann said Arthur Kimball will head the procurement department as managing director. Mr. Kimball answers directly to Gail Charles, assistant general manager of the Department of Administrative Services.

Ms. Charles said in a memorandum to employees that Mr. Watson was leaving Metro but did not explain the reason for his departure.

Metro employees said Mr. Watson resigned after being told that his job was being cut, and that he would not be offered another job. "He quit rather than being fired," said an employee.

The changes in Metro's procurement department come amid an internal probe into safety violations by supervisors in the operations control center that allowed a disabled train filled with rush-hour passengers to roll away without power or brakes for 50 yards on Metro's Red Line on May 26.

The Times reported yesterday that an operations control center controller ordered a recovery train to approach the disabled train from the uphill side not the downhill slope in defiance of Metro's safety rules and the laws of gravity.

Bea Hicks, chief operating officer of rail services, told The Times on Friday that although Metro's safety rules were violated, no one in the control center was being disciplined because employees may make decisions that conflict with the rule book.

Mr. Feldmann, Metro's spokesman, yesterday said that is not the case. "We would never condone any Metro employee violating our safety rules and procedures. When we say, 'Safety is our top priority,' we mean it," he said.

"While we encourage our employees to always use good judgment, they must use that judgment within the parameters of our safety rules and procedures," Mr. Feldmann added.

The operators of the two trains involved in the runaway incident between Woodley Park-Zoo and Dupont Circle Metrorail stations were suspended, and Ms. Hicks said no one at the control center was responsible.

But Mr. Feldmann said an investigation into the incident is looking at everyone involved regardless of whether they have been disciplined.

The incident marked the second time in three months that controllers violated safety rules. The Times reported that controllers violated safety rules during the April 20 tunnel fire near the Foggy Bottom station by failing to report the fire immediately to the fire department.

Metro's board last week instituted a policy requiring that trains be halted and the fire department summoned for all reports of smoke or fire on the subway.

That policy was tested for the fourth time in seven days yesterday in a report of smoke on the Red Line between the Farragut North and Van Ness stations about 5:10 p.m.

Two hours later, Metro spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson said, trains at the Cleveland Park, Woodley Park-Zoo and Dupont Circle stations resumed service after having been evacuated in the search for the fire.

Metro and fire department officials said a small trash fire on a rail caused the smoke. There were no reports of injuries.

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