Former Amtrak inspector general accused of inappropriate lobbying

It's considered outside the bounds of an independent government inspector to lobby Congress on legislation, but Amtrak's former inspector general Fred Weiderhold has been accused of that by the Transportation Department's inspector general and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Weiderhold was the key player in $450 million for "capital security grants" that was placed in the economic stimulus package: He communicated with Congress and didn't consult Amtrak management about the proposal, Rockefeller said in a letter sent on Thursday to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel said Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman considered Weiderhold's consultation with Congress on the stimulus provision a "watershed moment" in which he told the board, "either [Weiderhold] goes or I go."

Weiderhold's removal from Amtrak in 2009 has been the subject of a congressional investigation, with House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., charging that Amtrak fired him unlawfully. Rockefeller says Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have overlooked key facts in their probe of the Weiderhold removal.

The Transportation Department's IG sent a letter to Issa on Wednesday saying Amtrak did not violate the law in removing Weiderhold, but "Amtrak does not appear to have given adequate consideration to Congress's role as a stakeholder with respect to inspectors general." The letter was also addressed to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and Grassley.

The tension between Weiderhold and Amtrak had been smoldering for some time when the $450 million provision in the economic stimulus package came to the attention of the Amtrak management. Inspectors general frequently communicate with Congress about programs and operations of the agencies they are charged with overseeing, but "the law does not give them the authority to directly communicate with Congress about agency funding," Rockefeller said.

When it became clear the Weiderhold had inserted the language into the stimulus package, the Amtrak board tried to mediate the dispute and notified DOT's inspector general and the chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, DOT's IG said. The Amtrak board eventually gave Weiderhold a choice of a voluntary separation agreement with severance or a 30-day notice sent to Congress. Weiderhold chose the separation agreement.

Congress wasn't notified 30 days in advance, as required by law for involuntary removals. DOT's IG said Weiderhold's departure "would not appear to be an involuntary separation."

Rockefeller and Issa have traded jabs over the Weiderhold issue for the better part of a year, with Rockefeller putting his staff on the task of examining Issa's investigation. In Thursday's letter, Rockefeller said he hopes the DOT IG's finding "finally puts this matter to rest."

A spokesman for Issa noted that the DOT IG's letter is clear on the point that Congress wasn't given appropriate notice about Weiderhold's removal. "What Sen. Rockefeller describes as 'necessary steps' to remove Mr. Weiderhold, the Department of Transportation IG described as a failure by Amtrak officials to properly consult with Congress that was contrary to the intentions of the Inspector General Act," Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said. "The senator's letter further attempts to distort the record by presenting as fact information the IG clearly described as being 'from Amtrak's perspective.' "

The DOT IG letter suggests lawmakers could revisit the IG law to make the standards more clear. "Congress, therefore, is entitled to be kept well informed of the departure, or the possibility of departure, of an inspector general -- whether it be for 'doing his or her job too well' or 'for good reasons,'" the letter said. "To ensure that Congress is informed of inspectors general departures, Congress may wish to consider defining 'removal' or expanding those situations in which notice is required."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.