- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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.

“While Amtrak’s concern for Mr. Weiderhold’s reputation may be admirable, competing public policy considerations do not appear to have been given adequate weight.”

The document was obtained by The Washington Times on Wednesday evening, and Amtrak officials were not immediately available for comment. In previous articles about Mr. Weiderhold’s departure, Amtrak officials said they cooperated with “numerous entities” that have reviewed Mr. Weiderhold’s departure.

Amtrak officials said in a prior statement, “Amtrak has been and remains committed to an independent Office of Inspector General that operates pursuant to the Inspector General Act and in accordance with the best practices of the inspector general community.”

Mr. Scovell also noted that if defined by federal employment law, Amtrak’s decision to proceed with removing Mr. Weiderhold did not violate the Inspector General’s Act, which requires notification of Congress.

Still, relying on employment law “may frustrate the Inspector General Act’s intended purpose” of allowing Congress to inquire about the reasons behind an inspector general’s departure.