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Eye Opener: House Joins Amtrak IG Probe

By Ed O'Keefe

Congress is investigating the sudden retirement of Amtrak's inspector general. (Reuters)

Eye Opener

Updated 1 p.m. ET

Happy Tuesday! House lawmakers have jumped on the bandwagon -- or perhaps the rail car -- by launching a probe into the sudden retirement of Amtrak's inspector general who left earlier this month following the release of a scathing analysis that claimed the rail agency has botched internal investigations.

Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman and ranking members on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote yesterday to Amtrak Board Chairman Thomas Carper seeking a response to the allegations raised in an analysis conducted by D.C. law firm Willkie, Farr & Gallagher.

Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold Jr hired the firm earlier this year to assess his office's relationship with the federally-backed company. It concluded that Amtrak lawyers frequently compromised his investigations by pre-screening documents and redacting certain pieces of information, sitting in on IG interviews with employees, contractors and vendors, and prohibiting Widerhold and his staff from sharing sensitive agency information with Congress unless they first reviewed it.

Amtrak management has also claimed control of the $5 million provided to the Amtrak IG by the economic stimulus package, according to the analysis.

"This is contrary to the clear intent of Congress and is unacceptable," Towns and Issa wrote in their letter to Carper. The lawmakers also expressed concern that Amtrak has interfered with the IG's personnel decisions.

In a statement, Amtrak said Widerhold's retirement arrangements had been before the analysis was delivered to rail bosses. It also said Amtrak leadership had no opportunity to respond to the analysis before its release. It intends to cooperate with the Congressional inquiries, Carper said in the statement.

The House inquiry comes amid a wave of allegations surrounding the independence of inspectors general. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) made a similar request of Amtrak leadership last week and is investigating similar allegations at the Library of Congress, International Trade Commission, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

There are two types of inspectors general: Amtrak, the Library of Congress and the ITC are three of 31 "designated federal entities" that employ IGs hired and fired directly by agency leadership. The president appoints most of the other IGs employed by Cabinet-level departments and government agencies and programs including CNCS and SIGTARP.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | June 30, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Oversight  
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You know its bad when the IG for Amtrak has to hire its own IG (hired a firm) to assess the relationship.

Posted by: IGotLotsToSay | June 30, 2009 7:20 AM | Report abuse

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