MBTA Watchdog Agency Weakened By Staffing Shortage

Photo: WBZ NewsRadio Staff

BOSTON (State House News Service) — The "most pressing" concern for the head of the Department of Public Utilities division responsible for MBTA oversight is one familiar these days to leaders across the public and private sector: staffing shortages.

DPU Transportation Oversight Division Director Elizabeth Cellucci told lawmakers on Thursday that her team has seven full-time staffers, six of whom work in the field, and that the office has had job postings listed "continually" since she started the role about two years ago.

And with the department facing intense scrutiny over its alleged failure to ensure the MBTA operates safely following a string of incidents and a federal investigation, Cellucci and DPU Chair Matt Nelson said that workforce strain is their primary problem.

"I don't think it's a focus issue -- is the DPU not able to focus on this? ... It's a resource issue for us," Nelson told the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, whose members gathered to further probe whether the DPU should remain the state-designated watchdog over MBTA safety.

Cellucci would like to hire more people, including another auditor and two more compliance officers, but the jobs are hard to fill because they are in a "real niche area," she said.

"The day-to-day oversight work, the investigations, tracking the implementation of all of these corrective action plans, that takes two things: it takes enough staff and it takes staff with the special knowledge and skills that are necessary," Cellucci said.

As the committee hearing unfolded, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced she will convene a federal hearing in Boston next Friday to examine "management failures" at the DPU and MBTA and the economic impacts of inadequate transit maintenance and oversight. FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez has confirmed that she will testify at the Oct. 14 hearing at the JFK Federal Building. 

Written by Chris Lisinski, SHNS

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