From A To B: Metro And The Lobbying Game (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A to B: Metro and the Lobbying Game

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:34:46
Okay. So it isn't quite a sport, but some definitely would call it one of D.C.'s favorite games. It's lobbying. And it isn't just something you'll find on Capitol Hill. Lobbyists pop up anywhere officials are making decisions and taking votes. And that includes our very own Washington Metropolitan area transit authority, a.k.a., Metro, which is the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:35:22
Metro's board of directors is discussing whether to extend its $540 million contract with the company MV Transportation. And transportation reporter, David Schultz, brings us a story about a former Metro executive who lobbied his ex-coworkers on behalf of the company and about the booming business of providing transit to people with disabilities.

MR. DAVID SCHULTZ

13:35:44
I hate to begin this way, but I have some bad news. Life expectancy here in the U.S. is getting longer. Huge medical science advances are taking place and people are now living fulfilling, productive lives with diseases that just decades ago would've been incapacitating. I said, this is bad news, right? Well, it is if you're Metro or any other local transit agency. All these things I just mentioned, longer life expectancy, better medicine, more productive lives, they're causing the number of people who legally qualify as disabled to rise.

MR. DAVID SCHULTZ

13:36:15
And thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, local transit agencies must -- repeat, must, provide anyone who qualifies as disabled and can't ride buses or subway trains with some kind of equivalent. What's known in the industry as paratransit.

MR. CHRISTIAN KENT

13:36:29
Well, it's certainly an industry that’s grown.

SCHULTZ

13:36:32
Christian Kent runs Metro's paratransit division. He's the guy responsible for all those red, white and blue Metro access vans you see out there on the roads. Most cities contract out their paratransit operations and Metro is no exception. It's given the entire Metro access service to a private California based company called MV Transportation, one of the major players in this booming industry.

KENT

13:36:53
You know, obviously, with the passage of ADA in 1990, that's really when the growth started. And it's become a very large industry. There are a small number of private companies that manage a lot of the paratransit service across the country.

SCHULTZ

13:37:09
MV operates paratransit services in dozens of cities but Metro access is its crown jewel. In 2005 MV Transportation won an eight year contract to operate Metro access, a contract worth more than half a billion dollars. At the time, it was the largest contract Metro had ever awarded and it was far and away the largest contract MV had ever won. Now, the contract is up for a two-year extension and perhaps not coincidentally, MV has retained the services of local lobbying firm, the Carmen Group.

SCHULTZ

13:37:39
Perhaps also not coincidental, one of the Carmen Groups consultants is Emeke Moneme, a former member of Metro's board of directors and until last year, Metro's chief administrative officer. Christian Kent says, in public transit, this kind of revolving door move is not unusual.

KENT

13:37:55
It's very common for people who have experience in the industry to be called upon for their expertise as consultants.

SCHULTZ

13:38:03
But consultants, though, is sort of a very -- a little nebulas. It's kind of a nebulas term. Like, what is, you know, what exactly does that mean? What do they consult upon?

KENT

13:38:11
Well, I think that's between the consultant and who hires them.

SCHULTZ

13:38:15
Nikki Frenney, a spokesperson with MV Transportation says the company hired Moneme to do community outreach. But judging by one of Moneme's private e-mail's obtained by WAMU, he ended up doing a whole lot more. The e-mail was sent late last year from an associate in Moneme's office to a member of Metro's Jurisdictional Coordinating Committee or JCC. The JCC is a semi obscure group within Metro that's made up of officials from local transportation departments. Their job is to be the personal advisors to Metro's board of directors.

SCHULTZ

13:38:46
In the e-mail, the associate immediately identifies himself as working under Moneme. Then he requests an in person meeting with the JCC to, quote, "discuss MV Transport and the Metro access program."

MR. STEVE YAFFE

13:38:58
Emeke is a good guy. I've known him for a while. This -- well, shouldn't have done this.

SCHULTZ

13:39:04
Steve Yaffe is a transit industry veteran. In fact, he used to have Christian Kents' job at Metro. We showed Yaffe a copy of the e-mail. He says Metro's ethics rules are supposed to prevent its top executives from doing things like this.

YAFFE

13:39:17
WMATA has a very strict rule in that you can leave WMATA, you can go work for a contractor. That's not a problem. But you can't work on WMATA business.

SCHULTZ

13:39:27
We also showed the e-mail to Bill Allison, a lobbying expert in government transparency advocate at the Sunlight Foundation.

MR. BILL ALLISON

13:39:33
What the associate is doing in sending this e-mail is -- the very first thing he does is mention who he works for, working under Emeke Moneme. And he's dropping the name on purpose. Everybody at Metro is going to know who that is. And he's trying to get a meeting between his boss and the folks at Metro and he's relying on that contact for access. And this is what lobbyists do and this how they try to get in the door.

SCHULTZ

13:39:55
The member of the JCC who forwarded us this e-mail requested anonymity and he says he never agreed to meet with anyone from the Carmen Group or from MV Transportation. However, it's unclear whether other members of the JCC received similar e-mail's from Moneme. Nearly half of the committee 17 members haven't returned our phone calls. Moneme himself, also hasn't returned our phone calls. His boss at the Carmen Group deferred comment to their client, MV Transportation. Nikki Frenney, the MV Spokesperson says she doesn’t see anything wrong with Moneme's e-mail.

SCHULTZ

13:40:26
But she also notes, MV will be terminating its relationship with the Carmen Group at the end of this month. In others words, it appears Moneme's efforts to extend his clients contract may have cost him his own. I'm David Schultz.

SHEIR

13:40:41
To see a copy of the e-mail in question, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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