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.
So, who is behind the railroading of the Amtrak inspector general? As with the story of the AmeriCorps firing, which has First Lady Michelle Obama’s fingerprints on it, the Amtrak case smells like cronyism. Investigative journalist Robert Stacy McCain, who has watch-dogged the watchdog stories, noted last week that Amtrak’s vice president and general counsel is Eleanor Acheson.
Acheson, an old friend of Hillary Clinton, also has close ties to Vice President Joe “Mr. Amtrak” Biden. She hired Biden’s nominations counsel Jonathan Meyer to serve as her deputy general counsel. The two had also worked together in the Clinton Justice Department. Meyer called his hiring at Amtrak by Acheson a “happy coincidence,” according to Legal Times. (In another “happy coincidence,” Biden’s lobbyist son, Hunter, sits on Amtrak’s board of directors.) Acheson oversees the very Law Department accused of interfering repeatedly with the taxpayer advocates in the inspector general’s office.
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.
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.
The oversight committee has not announced plans for any hearing on the Amtrak issues, but we’ll keep you posted.
Stacy McCain: IG round-up.
Moe Lane: The latest on the latest on the IG situation
Contact the House Oversight Committee to support a hearing into the Amtrak railroading.