Norton-Requested Audit of Union Station Shows Major Unresolved Problems
WASHINGTON, DC – The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that the audit Norton requested of Union Station by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Office of Inspector General was released today. It is the first audit of Union Station since its revitalization was authorized by Congress in 1981. The audit assessed the oversight of Union Station’s development, operations and management, and found that the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC), the not-for-profit corporation that manages and oversees the station, faces significant financial challenges, that there are physical deterioration risks to the iconic historic structure itself, and the need for a coordinated master plan involving all the stakeholders. Norton, a senior member of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, first brought to light the necessity for an audit of Union Station at a July 2008 hearing she held on the direction of the complex and a subsequent hearing in July 2009. The 2008 hearing was the first hearing on Union Station after its historic renovation was authorized by Congress in 1981. She introduced a bill in 2011 and an amendment in 2012 to require the audit, and when the bill did not proceed rapidly, she sent a letter in 2011 to the USDOT Inspector General requesting the audit.
The audit makes three recommendations to the USRC: conduct a thorough study of Union Station’s funding plan to offset ongoing deterioration (reserve study); update the Union Station master plan in coordination with the appropriate stakeholders; and evaluate all possibilities to maximize revenues from USRC’s leases and garage operations, and other funding opportunities. It makes two recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA): define FRA’s authority role and oversee compliance with building and safety codes; direct USRC to carry out a building assessment on nonstructural deficiencies, and conduct a structural analysis of the building. Norton said that USRC’s 99-year lease with the station’s for-profit retail operator may leave it unable to meet the station’s maintenance needs – and prevents it from capturing any future increases in the monetary value of Union Station.
“The audit is an urgent call to USRC that changes are needed to meet unusual financial challenges and to ensure that this iconic structure remains physically stable enough to meet the needs of its stakeholders,” said Norton. “When the federal government spun off Union Station in 1985, it left it in the hands of a government-created not-for-profit corporation, USRC, which cannot expect the federal government to return to help with the problems of USRC or Union Station. Unfortunately, the Congress also washed its hands of oversight until our subcommittee took control. We helped USRC get new management and a more active board, which has shown good progress. However, the audit shows that USRC has many major problems for which solutions have not been developed.”
Norton said she was particularly concerned about the audit’s findings that FRA has responsibility for adopting and enforcing Union Station’s building codes – even though its expertise is railroad safety – and that this responsibility was found by the audit not to be well defined (until 2012, when FRA became responsible, there was no oversight entity for building codes and safety). Other shortcomings highlighted by the audit include that USRC has significant financial challenges and is laden with debt and unforeseen costs, that a recommended comprehensive structural analysis was never requested and that FRA has not informed USRC of all building and safety code requirements that might apply to the Station, raising concerns about its safety, and that USRC has not adequately planned for Union Station’s future and has an out-of-date master plan for expanding and improving Union Station. Norton has already met with the FRA, following the audit, to begin discussions about a building assessment, perhaps performed by the General Services Administration (GSA), which has responsibility for maintaining federal buildings across the nation.
Published: April 3, 3014