Lawmakers Investigating the Resignation of Amtrak’s In-House Watchdog

The House oversight committee has launched an official inquiry
into the resignation of Amtrak’s veteran inspector general (IG) earlier
this month — on the same day that an outside law firm reported on
alleged interference with his work by management at the rail
corporation.

NA_AY671_AMTRAK_G_20090629180041.jpgAmtrak IG Fred Weiderhold left earlier this month after 35 years at the rail corporation. (Photo: WSJ)

The
bipartisan congressional investigation focuses on a report commissioned
by Amtrak IG Fred Weiderhold several months before his June 18
departure. The report, prepared by the firm of Willkie Farr &
Gallagher, confirmed Weiderhold’s past contention that the IG’s
"independence and effectiveness are being substantially impaired" by
in-house policies at Amtrak.

But one particular charge in the
report caught Congress’ attention: that Amtrak managers prevented
Weiderhold from monitoring their use of economic stimulus money without
their approval.

As the oversight committee’s chairman, Rep.
Edolphus Towns (D-NY), and senior Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa (CA)
explained in a letter sent yesterday to Amtrak chairman Thomas Carper:

[T]he
legal analysis found that Amtrak management claims that all
expenditures of funds designated for the Inspector General must be
approved by Amtrak management. In other words, the Inspector General
may not use funds provided by Congress to investigate potential waste
and fraud in stimulus programs without the consent of the organization
being investigated. This is contrary to the clear intent of Congress
and is unacceptable.

In a statement released
yesterday, Amtrak noted that it had no opportunity to weigh in on the
Willkie Farr report and stated that "there was no relationship between
the timing of Mr. Weiderhold’s retirement and this report." Carper
added that the rail corporation "would like to maintain an open line of
communication
and are looking forward to cooperating fully" with the congressional inquiry.

Willkie Farr’s allegations of IG interference at Amtrak ranged beyond the stimulus law.
Weiderhold’s office began a review of New York’s Moynihan Station project
in March 2008, focusing on the apartment leased by the project manager
as well as "the use of lobbying firms and consultants in connection
with the project," the law firm’s report states.

But when
one of Weiderhold’s inspectors tried to get a copy the Moynihan project
manager’s personnel documents, senior managers would only give him "two
board meeting minutes, one which had been redacted," according to the
Willkie Farr report. (A copy of the 94-page report can be downloaded here.)

The oversight committee has not announced plans for any hearing on the Amtrak issues, but we’ll keep you posted.