- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2018

Two years after a beam fell from the ceiling of the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metro Station and hit the platform, a new report notes that improper inspections of the ceiling had been conducted for at least three years before the incident.

Metro’s Office of Inspector General reported this week that structural inspectors had not checked “hard-to-reach” and “non-visual components” in the building in the years before the beam fell.

The beam did not injure anyone, but the OIG report concluded that it “created a potential safety risk” that could have been prevented with thorough inspections.

The report also noted that structural inspectors had used the exact same language in their reports in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Thursday that the latter finding does not necessarily mean that parts of old structural reports were copied and pasted into new reports over the years.

“You do annual inspections, and some things will repeat. And they stay the same or they say similar things,” Mr. Wiedefeld said at a press conference at Metro offices. “But when you look at the reports, things changed, too.”

In the nine pages of inspector reports reviewed by the OIG, there were 49 instances in which inspectors had used language from a previous year’s report. The OIG noted that in half of those instances, inspection conditions had not changed and said that it “suggests weak controls over this process.”

“From the auditors’ perspective, when you have these same reports again and again, it put a red flag up that led them to brief me and refer it to our office of investigations,” Metro Inspector General Geoffrey Cherrington told The Washington Times.

The findings rankled Metro Board members such as Corbett A. Price, who runs a financial advisory firm and represents the District on the board. A frustrated Mr. Price described the issue as a “culture problem.”

Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, the Ward 2 Democrat on the D.C. Council, voiced a similar opinion: “I guess people just thought they could get away with it.”

Mr. Wiedefeld stressed to reporters that he had created an internal quality assurance group in the 2016 after the beam incident to address such issues.

“The purpose was to identify those kind of issues internally before anyone else,” Metro’s chief spokesman, Dan Stessel, told The Times.

The OIG report is not the first to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of Metro inspection reports. In 2015 the transit agency conducted a mass firing after discovering that track inspectors had falsified inspection reports. Metro said its response to that is proof it is committed to stopping bad behavior.

“When it became known that there was falsification of records within track inspection department, there were some two-dozen that were terminated,” Mr. Stessel said. “That represents half the department.”

On Thursday, officials said they already had addressed the OIG report’s finding about inspectors not reviewing some parts of the facility — like the beams on the 16.9-foot ceiling above the mezzanine where passengers often wait for trains.

Metro completed temporary repairs after the incident in 2016 that have held since then. Mr. Wiedefeld said the agency is working on protocols to ensure inspectors reach every part of the building.

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