2024 Management Excellence

Elizabeth (Biza) Repko 

Led critical research projects that exposed gaps in vehicle safety features, and uncovered shortcomings in the reliability of the U.S. rail and highway systems.

For decades, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has used crash test dummies that do not represent diverse groups of people who face a higher risk of injury or death in car crashes—like women, older adults and heavier individuals—making it difficult to assess whether vehicle safety features are effective for everyone.     

Today, this is beginning to change thanks to Elizabeth “Biza” Repko, director of the Government Accountability Office’s Physical Infrastructure team. Since 2020, Repko has led GAO’s efforts to oversee the implementation of federal transportation funding, including the $1 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Throughout her career, working with private industry and government agencies, she has led teams to expose critical gaps in U.S. transportation—from gender disparities in federal crash tests to the growing length of freight trains—and make recommendations for a safer system.   

“Biza’s work has made a clear impact on the surface transportation used by all of us. Her ability to manage the implementation of the infrastructure law and deliver results will make our country safer,” said Gene Dodaro, the U.S. comptroller general and head of the GAO.  

Research sparks push for more railroad safety    

Repko’s work on railroad safety focuses on preventing accidents before they occur.  

Two months before the hazardous train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, she found that the largest  

freight companies in the U.S., including the one operating that day, had reduced their staffs by 28% overall while increasing their train length, two possible factors in the crash. Her discovery helped lead the Federal Railroad Administration to propose new reporting standards and planning requirements around train length in 2023.  

In 2022, she also discovered that just 23 of the nearly 800 railroads in the U.S. participate in the Confidential Close Call Reporting System, which collects reports from railroad employees describing   unsafe conditions and events on trains. As a result, the FRA is working to share more information with the railroad industry.  

“Biza and her team are true public servants. They solve problems that they see emerging versus just pointing them out,” said Asma Mirza, Maryland’s chief performance officer and former implementation manager for the White House Infrastructure Implementation team.  

Implementing the infrastructure law and other federal provisions  

More recently, Repko has led GAO’s oversight of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, an arduous task given the number of mandates—26 in total—for which she is responsible.   

According to Andrew Rogers, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, Repko   “knows the law backward and forward” and has been instrumental in ensuring it works as intended.    

For example, one of the law’s provisions requires the GAO to review the dummies used in NHTSA’s vehicle safety crash tests. Repko found that female dummies are not placed in the driver’s seat for some key federal crash tests, including NHTSA’s five-star safety rating program. While NHTSA is still updating its practices, Repko said “it was important to get the agency to say, ‘we know this is a problem and we will fix it.’”   

She also found that more than 16% of ride-sharing vehicles have open safety recalls and, as part of a separate study, that highway roads are less likely to be in good condition in localities with higher percentages of underserved racial and ethnic populations. According to Rogers, one extension of her work is a new federal facility trying to create more durable low-cost pavement for these areas.     

“Biza is a leader in the accountability community overseeing a historic investment in infrastructure. This effort cannot have success without somebody who’s as capable a leader and manager as she is,” said David Trimble, managing director of GAO’s Physical Infrastructure team.  

Repko, who has spent her entire 19-year federal career at GAO, believes this work is critical to improving people’s daily lives.  

“Transportation is how we get to work, how we get to school, how we go on vacation and how we see our loved ones,” she said. “It’s a system that connects us, and the safer it is, the more everyone can benefit from it.”