- The GAO report is almost as long as this train. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Years since Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) requested the study, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has issued its long-anticipated report (PDF) on how WMATA manages itself, where it falls short, and all the different actions it should be taking in response to these shorts. The 69-page document breaks down the Metro system's management, why it conducted the document, how Metro's board of directors comports itself, past critiques, and then lays in hard on what WMATA should be doing now as the system looks toward the next decade and hopefully a more strategic way of thinking.
Here's 10 quick reactions, containing what on first read seem to be some of the juiciest details lost in the pages:
• "Inadequate delineation and documentation of the
board’s responsibilities, as well as inadequate communication among
board members," the report says about WMATA's board of directors. GAO says that board members, stakeholders, and other officials have referred to an emphasis on day-to-day reactions rather than long-term strategic planning and policy attention. No great surprise there
• A malaise of meetings. Metro's board met 84 times in less than a year, GAO said. Great, right? Meetings! Except no because, as GAO phrases it, the practice is "inefficient and symptomatic of a lack of a strategic focus."
- (Photo: GAO)
• Yet meetings alone can't kill off strategic thinking. No, that's also due to "failure to orient, inform, and educate new and existing board members."
• "WMATA’s board does not conduct a self-assessment." Effective transit boards try to do this like every three to five years, GAO tells us, sounding ever more like the parent who attempts to be patient as instincts veer toward fangs-out scolding.
• Good news! The board DOES have "mechanisms for the board to obtain relevant information from stakeholders." It's also worked to fix some of the big safety issues that have come up in recent years. The GAO report does a concise job of cutting through recent years of history in describing all these efforts from WMATA and in assessing where it stands now.
• Wait, WMATA may not be strategic yet, but it wants to be. In the report, a "senior WMATA official" says that such a strategy is on the way, that the institution has a one-page document to that effect on its site. The overall strategy comprises "consists of a strategic framework, a GM/CEO’s annual
execution plan, and internal departmental execution plans."
• "WMATA’s strategic framework was not developed with board input and did not include a process to identify priorities and direction from the
board." Furthermore, the section notes, there's a big awareness problem among the stakeholders and the board – they don't have it.
• Again, it's little surprise in an institution that size to read about its "lack of transparency" among jurisdictions and the public when it comes to Metro's strategy and vision.
• Good organizations need to break down how the "internal and external environments" affect their planning, GAO says, and Metro's not doing that.
• When's that again? WMATA's people "do not clearly establish a long-term, multiyear outlook and do not include a schedule for updating or revising the
agency’s strategic goals, objectives, and strategies."
Metro's board of directors has released a response to the GAO report on the WMATA site this morning at 10:30 a.m. Metro's press office is letting this stand as their comment to the report, Dan Stessel told me. The board welcomes the assessment, according to the document, and highlights the many changes and improvements that Metro has gone after this year, such as in the following section:
The Board has taken several key actions this year including:
• Drafting permanent Board By-laws and Rules of Procedure, that benefitted from public input and include the Board conducting a self-evaluation
• Creating a work plan that allows easy tracking by the public of changes that have been proposed in response to outside report recommendations
• Reviewing and updating its Code of Ethics
• Institutionalizing the monthly Vital Signs Report as a monitoring tool
Read the report for yourself and see what you think.