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The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate whether the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is adequately overseeing safety at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The committee also asked the office to determine whether the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would be better suited for the job.
Since October 2015, the FTA has been responsible for direct safety oversight of the D.C.-area transit agency. However, in a July 18 letter to the GAO, oversight committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and five other lawmakers expressed concern that the FTA may lack the same authority as the FRA to issue binding safety regulations.The FRA employs hundreds of inspectors to enforce safety regulations nationwide, while the FTA has "more limited inspection capabilities," members of the committee wrote.Chaffetz and the other committee members also noted that the National Transportation Safety Board has asserted that the FRA would be better positioned than the FTA to provide safety oversight for transit-rail systems.The committee asked the GAO to examine how the FTA is exercising its oversight and the steps the federal agency has taken to ensure that WMATA addresses outstanding safety issues. Committee members also requested the GAO to examine the differences between the FRA and the FTA's safety oversight programs; evaluate whether the FTA has sufficient resources, technical capacity and enforcement authority to provide the level of oversight necessary to improve rail safety; and evaluate whether the FRA would be more effective at performing safety oversight than the FTA."Given WMATA's ongoing safety concerns and longstanding management issues, it is essential that the transit agency be subject to strong and effective safety oversight," committee members wrote in the letter.