Who railroaded the Amtrak inspector general?
by Michelle Malkin
Watchdogs are an endangered species in the Age of Obama. The latest government ombudsman to get the muzzle: Amtrak inspector general Fred Weiderhold. The longtime veteran employee was abruptly “retired” last month –just as the government-subsidized rail service faces mounting complaints about its meddling in financial audits and probes.
Question the timing? Hell, yes.
On June 18, Weiderhold met with Amtrak officials to discuss the results of an independent report by the Washington, D.C. law firm, Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. The 94-page report has been made publicly available through the office of whistleblower advocate Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). It concluded that the “independence and effectiveness” of the Amtrak inspector general’s office “are being substantially impaired” by the agency’s Law Department. Amtrak bosses have effectively gagged their budgetary watchdogs from communicating with Congress without preapproval; required that all Amtrak documents be “pre-screened” (and in some cases redacted) before being turned over to the inspector general’s office; and taken control over the IG’s $5 million portion of federal stimulus dollars.
Moreover, the report revealed, Amtrak regularly retained outside law firms shielded from IG reach. In another case, Amtrak’s Law Department appeared to meddle in an inspector general investigation of an outside financial adviser suspected of inflating fees. The consultant ran to the Law Department when the IG demanded documents; the Law Department repudiated the IG’s instructions on complying with a subpoena.
These interventions (ongoing since 2007) have “systematically violated the letter and spirit of the Inspector General Act,” according to Sen. Grassley. IG staffers now fear retaliation – and with good reason. Their boss, Weiderhold, lost his job on the very day Amtrak received the Willkie, Farr & Gallagher report. It may be hot and humid in the rest of the Beltway, but every inspector general’s office is feeling an Arctic chill.
The transparent sacking comes just as Amtrak is awash in more than $1.3 billion of new federal stimulus funds. It comes on the heels of the unceremonious dismissal of Gerald Walpin, the AmeriCorps inspector general who dared to probe financial shenanigans by Obama cronies. (See “Obama’s AmeriCrooks and cronies scandal,” June 17, 2009.) And it comes on the heels of the stifling of veteran Environmental Protection Agency employee Alan Carlin, the researcher who dared to question the Obama administration’s conventional wisdom on global warming. (See “EPA’s game of global warming hide-and-seek,” June 26, 2009).
Question the timing? You betcha.
…Sen. Grassley has requested that Amtrak supply information on Weiderhold’s unexpected retirement, as well as internal and personal materials related to his departure and the report on Amtrak managers’ meddling. On the House side, Reps. Edolphus Towns (D.-N.Y.) and Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) announced a probe Monday into Amtrak’s actions. They zeroed in on Amtrak’s choice of Lorraine Green to replace “retired” IG Weiderhold. (Click here for their letter to Amtrak Chairman of the Board of Directors Tom Carper.)
Who is Lorraine Green? She’s a former Amtrak human resources executive and faithful Democrat donor with no experience in the inspector general business. Her expertise? Managing “diversity initiatives” for the agency. Watchdog out. Lapdog in.
Can someone open a window? The fetid odor of Hope and Change is really starting to stink up the joint.
Now, the Department of Transportation’s independent Inspector General has bolstered the case that Weiderhold was railroaded and rules were steamrolled when Amtrak bureaucrats gave him the boot.
Via the Washington Times:
Top Amtrak officials failed to give “adequate consideration” to a federal mandate to inform Congress before they removed the rail service’s longtime inspector general in 2009, according to a new independent review.
The findings by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General were reported in a letter Wednesday to three top Republican lawmakers who requested an inquiry into the removal of Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold.
The report comes two months after Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called for the firing of Amtrak Chairman Thomas Carper and General Counsel Eleanor Acheson, saying they “unlawfully interfered” with the independence of the rail service’s Office of Inspector General when Amtrak got rid of Mr. Weiderhold.
Last year, Mr. Issa and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, released a joint investigation that accused Amtrak of violating federal rules by failing to inform Congress it was getting rid of Mr. Weiderhold. They also said Mr. Weiderhold was targeted because of his track record in exposing waste and fraud.
In a new report, Transportation Department’s inspector general, Calvin L. Scovell III, looked into the removal of Mr. Weiderhold, reviewing more than 6,700 pages and conducting eight interviews, including with Mr. Weiderhold, Ms. Acheson and Mr. Carper.
In the letter to the Republican lawmakers, Mr. Scovell wrote, “Amtrak does not appear to have given adequate consideration to Congress‘ role with respect to inspectors general.
“Although the (Amtrak) board was aware of congressional interest and considered consulting Congress prior to its decision, it elected not to and treated the decision to replace its inspector general in the same manner as any other Amtrak senior executive,” he wrote.
I’ve said before: Watchdogs are an endangered species in the Age of Obama. Unelected cronies and czars and appointees are calling the shots. Time for some kinetic housecleaning action. 2012 can’t come soon enough.