MTA's inspector general hits the rails running
As a federal prosecutor, Carolyn Pokorny helped nail the likes of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Colombia's Norte Valle cartel.
She sees her new position, inspector general of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as much more personal. She's a lifetime New Yorker and transit rider.
“I remember as a college student in New York City in the 1980s, taking the public transportation at certain times in the evening was a dangerous prospect," said Pokorny, a New York University and Brooklyn Law School graduate who rose to deputy chief of staff under U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
"The rule of thumb was that you couldn’t, certainly as a young female student, feel with safety that you could ride the subway after a certain hour and that continued well into the 1990s," she said at a meeting of the watchdog Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.
“We have come a very long way since those days, and I’m eager to make sure that the office of the MTA inspector general plays a role in this critical moment for the MTA.”
The MTA is one of the largest municipal issuers with roughly $43 billion in debt. Pokorny said her office will monitor the transformation plan that the MTA's board approved two months ago.
Later this month, the board is expected to submit its latest five-year capital program, which could total up to $50 billion, to a state review panel. Advocacy groups have argued that the release of the program is behind schedule and complain that debate over the project list has gone on behind closed doors.
The state Senate in May approved Pokorny's appointment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She succeeds Barry Kluger and is the first female at the position, created in 1983.
"The governor came to me and said the IG was going to be retiring [and] did I have any recommendations for a new inspector general," she said after the PCAC meeting. "He said he was looking for someone who was a former federal prosecutor who would be very independent and be fierce and have a go-get-'em attitude.
"I thought about it and I thought, well, I'd like to really do this job myself."
She has had a busy run in short time after leaving her post as special counsel for public integrity in the executive chamber and chief special counsel for ethics, risk and compliance for New York State.
Her audits at MTA have covered, among other items, the hot-button matter of abuse of time; alleged theft by an employee at Metro-North Railroad's upstate Croton-Harmon complex; New York City Transit's policy on non-employee access passes; a study on alcohol- and drug-testing procedures; and escalator outages on the new Second Avenue subway line along Manhattan's Upper East Side.
"She is doing some really great stuff. She's uncovering waste," said board member Andrew Albert, who also chairs the PCAC. "We want her to uncover waste and fraud wherever it exists because that is costing the MTA money. We want things to be done prior to service cuts, so if there are ways we can get money for the MTA, we want to do it."
Transparency is a major emphasis for Pokorny. For the first time, the office is posting reports online, on social media platforms and sending them to board members "more or less in real time."
Feedback from the public, the MTA and its board has been positive, she said.
"Our complaint numbers are shooting through the roof," she said. "It becomes self-generating. We get out our reports, the word gets out to the public that we're available to them, we get more complaints and that gives us more ideas for future reports."
Her office has received 875 complaints this year through Sept. 5, compared with 683 in all of 2018.
"The first two years I was on the board I got nothing from the MTA IG. I'm very pleased that you're sending out reports and keeping us up to date," board member Randy Glucksman told Pokorny.
Her work has also included quality-of-life matters such as homelessness, drain cleaning and violence against MTA workers.
Pokorny began her career as a federal prosecutor in the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn, where she headed the narcotics and money laundering program.
There, she devised a national strategy for charging the leaders of Mexico's most powerful cocaine cartels, including Guzman, and led the international investigation that resulted in the conviction of more than 30 Norte Valle cartel leaders on charges of murder, operating a continuing criminal enterprise, money laundering and drug trafficking.
She followed her boss, Lynch, to Washington.