Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Board of Directors Chairman Roger Berliner urged area leaders to “replace competition with cooperation and collaboration” on issues like restoring the Metrorail system and strengthening the region's economic competitiveness. He addressed an audience of 200 of the area’s top elected officials and business, civic, and nonprofit leaders at the COG annual membership meeting at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center recently.
Ladies and gentlemen, regional leaders all, thank you for joining us today. Before reflecting on our progress this year, and how we can continue to advance our priorities in 2017, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the current state of affairs and what it means for our work.
I am not trying to be dramatic when I say to you that I truly believe this is a watershed moment for our region. We are being tested and it is by no means an easy test. And it is one of those pass/fail tests. There is no in between. We either rise to the occasion or our legacy will be failure. Many are either skeptical or cynical or both when it comes to judging our capacity to put the region's needs ahead of parochial demands.
We must prove them wrong.
Metro is us. Not anyone else. We must look in the mirror and know that our region is collectively responsible for Metro's current state of affairs, and more importantly, its future. Time and time again, regional leaders sacrificed the future in order to avoid short term pain. And here we are. As is often said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
There’s a saying: Be the kind of leader that you would like to follow. Paul Wiedefeld is that kind of leader. No, even in the holiday spirt, he doesn’t walk on water. But Paul Wiedefeld has a clear vision unclouded by parochial demands and, after just one year, an already impressive track record of taking on every obstacle that stands in the way of restoring this system. We cannot fail to take advantage of his leadership.
Safety comes first. We didn't need this week's decoupling event to remind us that it is priority 1, 2, and 3. But if this system belongs to the region, then the region, not the federal government, has to have the capacity to ensure safe operations. What we have had in place until now was not capable of achieving that result. With COG playing a very significant role, we should be poised to pass legislation in the District, Maryland, and Virginia creating a real Metrorail Safety Commission that will have both authority and the responsibility to ensure that safety remains the highest priority.
If we let the GM do what must be done, we will be in a better position to address Metro’s long term funding needs, which we must do. Our goal this past year has been to lay the foundation for our region to coalesce around a responsible plan that we can move forward with in time for the 2018 legislative sessions.
In furtherance of that goal, after a forum we hosted of leading transit operators, we at COG have insisted that Metro adopt metrics for safety, reliability, customer satisfaction, and fiscal management. We understand that accountability is a predicate to increased financial support, and so does WMATA.
We also need the federal government to recognize its own responsibility, both for where we are and where we need to go. We need the federal government to be a true partner, not an overlord.
As we move forward, we will need to come together. COG is doing its part to advance that outcome. We have engaged the region's leadership, working with WMATA, to identify both the real need and the best path to achieve dedicated funding. The work of this group will result in a report this spring.
In my view, we do not have the luxury of having competing plans. It will be challenging enough to secure victory, but it will be almost impossible if we are fractured. Only by being united can we secure Metro's future. We have time, but not an unlimited amount. It is my hope that in the months ahead, our business community and other stakeholders will join with COG and together we will march forward.
Our destinies are linked. And that includes our economic destiny. We know that our region's economy has been too dependent upon federal government spending. And now that future is — as Senator-elect Van Hollen knows all too well — uncertain. We also know that we have been very competitive in our relationship with one another in this region. And while competition has its place, it can also be destructive.
We need to replace competition with cooperation and collaboration. Rather than move assets around, or even try to land the big fish, we need to focus on growing what we have. Every economic analysis reaches the same conclusion — growing what you have gives each of us our best return on investment. The Global Cities Initiative that COG played an instrumental role in launching this year is precisely that. Let’s work together to help our small to mid-size companies realize their export potential and grow their business ... and our tax base.
Those two issues — Metro and growing our regional economy — have been your board of directors’ priorities this year.
But fortunately, COG has done much more this year. And that is a tribute to the great team of professionals at COG, a team so ably led by our executive director, Chuck Bean. Ladies and gentlemen that is an applause line. Under their collective leadership, we secured $58 million in federal grants for transit initiatives throughout the region. And that is but one example of what the institution achieved this year. The list goes on and on, and is there on our website.
Now let me conclude as I began. Those of us who have been entrusted with the responsibility of leading our local governments in this incredible region must step up our game. As Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution said to us in this very room a few years back, local governments are now at the top of the government pyramid now. It’s on us. Look around the room. Look at the quality of people in this room. I know we can do this, together.
Thank you board colleagues for the incredible privilege of serving as your chair this year and I wish Mr. McDuffie the very best as he leads us forward next year.
God bless, and Happy Holidays.