- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amtrak officials are defending their handling of the unexpected departure last year of longtime Inspector General Fred Weiderhold, whom top congressional Republicans say lost his job after exposing waste, fraud and abuse throughout the rail service.

Mr. Weiderhold was forced to resign in June 2009 as part of a “systematic” campaign by Amtrak to remove him as the rail service’s top watchdog, according to a congressional report Monday.

But in formal statement issued late Monday responding to the report by ranking members of the Senate Finance and House Oversight and Government Reform committees, Amtrak officials said they acted appropriately.

“The Amtrak board is committed to having an independent Office of Inspector General that operates under best practices consistent with the Inspector General Act and, as previously stated, was concerned for some time about whether best practices were in use,” Amtrak officials said in the statement.

Amtrak also stated that a “full and fair reading” of the information that officials turned over to congressional investigators “confirms important facts and circumstances regarding the retirement of its former [inspector general] and demonstrates Amtrak acted appropriately.”

The government-owned rail service also said Amtrak’s new inspector general, Ted Alves, a former deputy inspector general at the Department of Transportation, had enacted several changes “to bring the Amtrak OIG in line with the best practices of the [inspector general] community.”

The congressional report accused Amtrak of pushing Mr. Weiderhold out of his job without prior notice to Congress. The Inspector General Act states that officials must give 30 days’ notice.

“Like any entity that receives billions of tax dollars, Amtrak needs independent oversight, and I hope this controversy has helped Amtrak learn that valuable lesson,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

The probe also said the relationship between Mr. Weiderhold and Amtrak management frayed as the inspector general probed wasteful practices such as millions of dollars paid out by Amtrak’s law department to expensive outside attorneys.

The congressional report also criticized Amtrak’s hiring of outside lawyers to represent the rail service’s executives during administrative investigations. Congressional staff said that practice is unheard of across government.

In addition, the report called for limits on funding to hire outside law firms. Investigators said Amtrak had spent more than $70 million during a three-year period.