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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.

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