- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton wants the Federal Transit Administration to ease its funding reimbursement restrictions on Metro to allow the transit agency to stop taking out short-term loans from private lenders.

The FTA reimburses funds to most large transit systems via an electronic, automatic process that takes about a day to complete.

But for the past 21 months, the FTA has required Metro to request reimbursements using a paper process that includes a thorough review and can take several weeks to complete. Federal regulators set up the restrictions after finding problems in Metro’s budget controls and funds management.

Because Metro cannot quickly access reimbursement funds, it has used temporary means to pay for day-to-day operations and maintenance.

“What concerns me most now is that because of the delay in reimbursements, [Metro] has had to go to the marketplace to obtain short-term credit on three occasions simply to sustain its operations, adding costs to a transit system that is already in need of funding,” Ms. Norton said Thursday in a letter to the FTA.

She said that this is a critical time for Metro to get back on its feet and that getting reimbursements quickly would help.

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“Now would be a good time to encourage a new start considering whether changes at Metro, including new leadership, should lead to some changes in the nature of the monitoring process other than paper procedures that have contributed to short-term borrowing for operations,” said Ms. Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress.

At the end of last month, Paul J. Wiedefeld, the former chief executive of Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, started work as Metro’s new general manager and CEO. And earlier this month, Metro launched a national search for a new chief safety officer.

Moreover, the fiscal 2016 budget will provide Metro with its full $150 million in federal funding and a substantial increase in a monthly subsidy.

Ms. Norton noted that the FTA’s restrictions were needed after Metro’s financial mismanagement was uncovered and that monitoring is still needed.

“I have not heard complaints from [Metro] about its drawdown procedures, which were plainly necessary when they were imposed, and I believe close monitoring of [Metro]’s financial procedures remains necessary,” she said in her letter.

But she held up the corrections Metro has made since the FTA uncovered the mismanagement as a reason for releasing the transit agency from some restrictions.

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To address FTA criticisms, Metro hired the management consulting firm Deloitte to conduct an internal analysis of asset management accounting processes. Metro also created and implemented a Standard Operating Procedures manual and revised its procurement manual.

The transit agency “has concurred with all of the FTA findings and has steadfastly undertaken corrective actions,” Ms. Norton said.

She stopped short of saying the FTA should lift the restrictions; rather, she called on federal regulators to look into the matter.

“I am not in a position, as you are, to know whether changes in monitoring are advisable or, if so, what form the process should take,” Ms. Norton wrote in the letter. “I write only to suggest a fresh look by FTA as to whether or not paper drawdown procedures are the only way FTA can monitor [Metro].”

The FTA did not return calls for comment.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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