D.C. Council Drops Secrecy Provisions in Metro Safety Panel

In a dramatic turnaround just hours before a hearing on legislation to create a new Metrorail Safety Commission, revisions to the legislation will beef up legal protections for transparency and public access, as advocates had been calling for.

Previous drafts left it to the safety panel to write its own internal rules on access to records and open meetings, with vague enforcement. These seemed unlikely to satisfy a concerned public, reeling from years of accidents and weak safety consciousness and uncertain if even the current repair program with its painful delays and outages will be enough. 

Following criticisms of the first bill from open government groups in the District, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the Washington Post editorial board, a new draft circulated by legislative staff Monday (3) changed course.

The Council hearing on the proposal, set for Tuesday (4), was expected to include public witnesses concerned that safety problems could be swept under the rug in the new Metrorail Safety Commission, intended as a stronger safety watch dog.

Instead, the bill requires the Commission to adopt the federal Freedom of Information Act and Government in the Sunshine Act and follow them rather than the laws of any of the three jurisdictions that will sign the compact creating the new Commission (D.C., Virginia, and Maryland, the same three that make up the transit agency, the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority).

Calling the original scheme “wholly inadequate,” D.C. Open Government Coalition President Kevin Goldberg Monday said he had revised his testimony to "wholeheartedly support" the changes and urge their passage.

The Coalition had previously called for changes so that transparency protections will be in the law; access will be robust with few exceptions; and rights of access will be enforceable in court. Goldberg said he plans to state the Coalition's position now that, if passed, the new bill would “incorporate our proposed amendments” and “our concerns will be eliminated.”

The Council hearing is Tuesday, October 4 at 10:30 in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC. The Coalition statement and the revised bill are attached below.