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Federal Transit Administration lifts restrictions on Metra

(April 15, 2011) - 
After nearly eleven months of exhaustive and thorough on-site review by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the FTA has informed Metra it will lift FTA-imposed restrictions on its access to federal funds because of the reforms put in place by the Metra Board of Directors. 
 
The restricted status on Metra’s ability to draw federal funds for capital projects was imposed on May 5, 2010 after allegations of misconduct by former Executive Director Philip A. Pagano prompted the Metra Board to place him on leave and to launch an investigation by Special Counsel James Sotos. 
 
However, as part of the lifting of restrictions on accessing federal funds, Metra and the FTA agree that Metra will pay $90,000 in fines as a result of several years of Metra’s failing to file reports required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act—the Standard Form LLL (SF LLL).  Metra has now filed all past due reports and has rejected Pagano’s position that no reports were required under the lobbying disclosure laws.
 
“We want to thank U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff for their thorough review of Metra and for validating the new controls and procedures the board has put in place,” said Metra Chairman Carole R. Doris.  “At this point, no other outside agencies know Metra better. We are pleased that the FTA is lifting the restrictions and we look forward to working closely with the Secretary and the FTA to ensure strong commuter rail transit for the Chicagoland region.”
 
“Metra assents to the fines and agrees with the FTA on the proper lobbying activity compliance process,” Chairman Doris said.
 
Among the Metra Board reforms shared with the FTA were:
  • Selecting new Executive Director/CEO, Alex Clifford, after a nationwide search conducted by an independent management consulting firm.
  • New CEO Clifford’s agenda to implement reforms in agency practices and procedures while also reemphasizing customer safety and satisfaction.
  • A commitment to increased transparency
  • The board’s establishment of a temporary Office of Inspector General led by former U.S. Secret Service Special Agent-in-Charge Arnette Heintze and his team of former city, state and federal law enforcement investigators.
  • Retaining financial risk management experts from the firm of Blackman Kallick to perform a risk assessment and control analysis and provide the board with best practices for oversight of senior management.
  • Passing key personnel ordinances to protect whistleblowers and prevent nepotism.
“The agency can now finally turn the page and look forward to a bright future lead by our new CEO Alex Clifford, who is bringing updated management practices and customer-focus to the culture of Metra as well as a commitment to transparency and accountability,” Chairman Doris said.
 
“It’s a new day at Metra,” said Congressman Bobby Rush.  “A new day, and a new beginning. The Federal government’s decision to close this unfortunate chapter in Metra’s history is a victory for its ridership and the taxpayers. I commend the reforms put into place by the Metra Board and Alex Clifford, the new Executive Director and CEO, which served as the catalyst for the FTA’s decision. I’m pleased with this decision, and I’m pleased with the prospect that Metra can once again focus on delivering a world-class transit system to my constituents and the entire Chicago metropolitan area.”
 
“This shows that Metra now has a clean bill of health,” said Congressman Danny Davis. “The reforms put in place by the Metra Board and the new Executive Director and CEO, Alex Clifford, are working and they’re working well for the commuters of the region.  Having met with Chairman Carole Doris and Mr. Clifford last week in D.C., I am confident in their leadership to put Metra back on track again. I look forward to working with them closely and to support Metra here in Washington, D.C.”
 
“I am extremely encouraged by the steps Metra is taking to ensure accountability and to restore transparency to the taxpayers,” said Congressman Randy Hultgren, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “And I am pleased with FTA’s decision to turn the page and let Metra once again focus on its customers. I met with Metra Chairman Carole Doris and new Executive Director and CEO, Alex Clifford, last week, and I thanked them for their leadership and the reforms they've implemented to finally close the last page on this unfortunate chapter.”
 
“I applaud Metra and its Board for embracing reform and transparency in the wake of last year’s unfortunate events,” said Congressman Mike Quigley. “Hopefully the steps taken will ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent with greater effectiveness and accountability.” 
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