House transfers DC Metro board appointments to DOT

House transfers DC Metro board appointments to DOT
© Greg Nash

The House voted Wednesday to approve an amendment that would allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make appointments to the Washington, D.C., Metrorail subway system's board of directors. 

The amendment, from Rep. Donna EdwardsDonna F. EdwardsDemocratic Senate candidate blasts own party for racial 'foghorn' Autoworkers' union endorsing Van Hollen in MD Senate race Dem leaders' hard sell pays off on omnibus MORE (D-Md.) and Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockThe GOP is Trump's party now House GOP frets over Pennsylvania race Giffords's group eyes Ryan, other high-profile Republicans ahead of midterms MORE (R-Va.), transfers authority for making federal appointments to the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) from the General Services Administration to the Transportation Department. The proposal was approved on a voice vote Wednesday afternoon. 

The proposal is one of more than 80 amendments to a new $325 billion highway bill measure that are being considered by lawmakers on Wednesday. 

The sponsors of the amendment said the effort to change the process for federal appointments to the Metro board is another attempt to give the Transportation Department greater authority over the capital area transit agency, which has been under fire for a series of safety lapses that prompted the DOT to take over safety oversight of the Metrorail system. 

“It is paramount that Metro meets all the necessary safety requirements," Comstock said in a statement. "Metro will only win the public’s trust again if it changes its culture."

“It is no secret that WMATA continues to face significant challenges addressing safety, performance and management,” Edwards added.  “WMATA’s board of directors determines the agency’s policies and provides oversight for the funding, operation and expansion of transit facilities.  Our bipartisan amendment is an important step forward to reforming the leadership and oversight of WMATA by giving the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) the authority to appoint the four federal members to the WMATA board."  

The Transportation Department last month determined that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will conduct safety inspections for the D.C. Metro system under new powers that were granted to the agency in a 2012 transportation funding bill, making Metro the nation's first local transit agency to be placed under federal control.  

Metro, which is the second-busiest subway in the nation, has been under fire for most of the year following the death of a passenger on a smoke-filled train in January and a series of other safety lapses.

The amendment that was approved on Wednesday by the House gives Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and future DOT chiefs "sole authority to appoint Federal Directors to the Board of Directors of the Transit Authority."  

The proposal to increase federal oversight of Metro was set in motion in September when the National Transportation Safety Board issued an "urgent" recommendation to classify the Washington, D.C., Metrorail subway system as a commuter railroad to expand federal oversight of the capital transit agency under the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) powers. 

-Last updated with new information at 6:54 p.m.