Chao Replaces Federal Members of WMATA Board

July 27, 2017

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on July 24 replaced the two federally-appointed principal members of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board of directors.

Gone are former National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Carol Carmody and former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head David Strickland. Both were appointed to the board just 15 months ago. General Services Administration advisor Anthony Costa and former Federal Railroad Administrator chief safety officer Robert Lauby remain as the non-voting federal alternate directors.

Replacing Carmody and Strickland are former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Transportation Policy David Horner and former Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Steve McMillin. Both men served in those positions in the second term of the George W. Bush Administration.

Horner, who also served as chief counsel for the Federal Transit Administration, is a partner at the law firm of Hunton & Williams. His firm biography stresses his work on public-private partnership (P3) transactions, including the Pennsylvania DOT rapid bridge replacement, the Puerto Rico toll road, the Ohio State University parking system, and others.

McMillin was a Hill staffer for Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) and the House Budget Committee before decamping to OMB to serve as PAD for general government programs in the first George W. Bush term and then as Deputy Director in the second term. Since then, he has served as a consultant “on federal financial regulatory reform legislation and recovery programs, the congressional revenue estimating process, government procurement, and improving government fiscal policies and procedures…”

So two WMATA board members with “Safety” in the names of their previous organizations are replaced with budget and finance experts. What to make of this?

In the first place, remember that Carmody and Strickland were only put on the board in April 2016, and they replaced a transportation finance and policy guru and an urban planner. This was just six weeks after the unprecedented 29-hour shutdown of the entire DC Metrorail system for emergency safety inspections after yet another fire incident. Safety concerns – or at least the appearance of being concerned about safety – were clearly behind the 2016 move. This led to the year-long “Safetrack” safety overhaul, which is now complete.

But the fact is, the federal government really doesn’t have much jurisdiction over mass transit safety in general, or WMATA safety in particular. The only real federal leverage is to withhold formula funding, which is already being done, in order to force the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to establish a joint body to oversee WMATA safety. That process is mostly done, removing any direct federal role in safety oversight.

The long-term WMATA agenda is all about getting the federal government to commit billions of dollars of future funding to the system once the current ten-year, $1.5 billion PRIIA authorization expires next year. The addition of Horner and McMillan to the board is clearly about shaping WMATA’s long-term budget “ask” from Congress.


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