The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was created by interstate compact of the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia with the consent of Congress. Maryland ratified the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact in 1965 (Chapter 869, Acts of 1965; Code Transportation Article, sec. 10-204). The Authority was formed to plan, finance, develop, and operate a balanced regional transportation system for the national capital area. The Authority also maintains a regular police force to protect patrons, personnel, and property.

Formerly. the Tri-State Oversight Committee served as the safety oversight agency for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. In October 2015, however, the Federal Transit Administration also began to oversee the Metro subway, making Metro the first U.S. subway system to be overseen directly for safety by a federal agency. Following the federal certification process in March 2019, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission became the safety oversight agency for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

An eight-member Board of Directors (& eight alternate directors) governs the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. To the Board, each Compact signatory appoints two members and two alternates. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation also appoints two members and two alternates. Formerly, these were chosen by the Administrator of the federal General Services Administration (Public Law 111-62). Board members and alternates serve terms coterminous with their service as members of their appointing bodies (Code Transportation Article, secs. 10-202 through 10-204).

Assisting the Board of Directors are two advisory bodies: the Accessibility Advisory Committee, and the Riders' Advisory Council.

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