- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Senate Commerce Committee is defending two top Amtrak executives whom Republicans want investigated for failing to tell Congress about the removal of longtime Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold.

Committee staff in a report this week also rejected calls by three Republican leaders in the House and Senate calling for the removal of Amtrak Chairman Thomas Carper and General Counsel Eleanor Acheson.

Among other reasons, the Republicans — Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, and Reps. Darrel Issa of California and John L. Mica of Florida — say the Amtrak officials never told Congress as required by law last year that they were forcing out Mr. Weiderhold.

In addition, an investigation released by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa concluded that Mr. Weiderhold was targeted by Amtrak management because of his track record at exposing waste, fraud and abuse in Amtrak’s executive ranks.

But a staff memo released this week by the Democratic majority for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation cited what it called “significant omissions” in the Republicans’ report.

That commerce committee report, among other findings, said Mr. Weiderhold’s inspector general’s office failed to protect sensitive information from public release and the office fell below federal government’s basic quality standards.

The commerce report also cites a 2009 letter to Mr. Carper from four former Amtrak chairmen and presidents not included in the Grassley-Issa report. The letter said Mr. Weiderhold had been in the job for 17 years longer than any other inspector general in federal government and that he had turned the position into “a personal fiefdom” while creating “a climate of fear.”

Mr. Grassley defended his staff’s report and said the committee’s latest findings do nothing to dispute the fact that Mr. Weiderhold was removed without notice to Congress. He also said a level of tension between an inspector general and management is a sign of worthwhile oversight being conducted.

“Our 21-page report had 80 footnotes, attached 29 exhibits and relied on about a dozen witness interviews to support its conclusion,” Mr. Grassley said. “The Rockefeller report cites no witness interviews and does not at all deal with the core issue of whether Amtrak complied with the law in the way that it removed its inspector general.”

Mr. Grassley also said he looked forward to a review into the question of whether Amtrak complied with the law in removing Mr. Weiderhold that is under way by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general.

In a prepared statement Thursday, Amtrak officials said, “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.”

“As demonstrated by the National Academy of Public Administrators assessment and Amtrak [inspector general’s] most recently released semi-annual report to Congress, the Amtrak OIG is carrying out its statutory responsibilities on behalf of the taxpayers,” the Amtrak statement read.

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