Watchdogs are an endangered species in the Age of Obama. The latest government ombudsman to get the muzzle: Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold. The longtime veteran employee was abruptly "retired" this month -- just as the government-subsidized rail service faces mounting complaints about its meddling in financial audits and probes.
Question the timing? Hell, yes.
On June 18, Weiderhold met with Amtrak officials to discuss the results of an independent report by the Washington, D.C., law firm Willkie, Farr and Gallagher. The 94-page report has been made publicly available through the office of whistleblower advocate Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. It concluded that the "independence and effectiveness" of the Amtrak inspector general's office "are being substantially impaired" by the agency's Law Department.
Amtrak bosses have effectively gagged their budgetary watchdogs from communicating with Congress without pre-approval; required that all Amtrak documents be "pre-screened" (and in some cases redacted) before being turned over to the inspector general's office; and taken control of the inspector general's $5 million portion of federal stimulus spending.
Moreover, the report revealed, Amtrak regularly retained outside law firms shielded from IG reach. In another case, Amtrak's Law Department appeared to meddle in an inspector general investigation of an outside financial adviser suspected of inflating fees. The consultant ran to the Law Department when the IG demanded documents, and the Law Department repudiated the IG's instructions on complying with a subpoena.
These interventions (ongoing since 2007) have "systematically violated the letter and spirit of the Inspector General Act," according to Grassley. IG staffers now fear retaliation -- and with good reason. Their boss, Weiderhold, lost his job on the very day Amtrak received the Willkie, Farr and Gallagher report. It may be hot and humid in the rest of the Beltway, but every inspector general's office is feeling an Arctic chill.
The transparent sacking comes just as Amtrak is awash in more than $1.3 billion in new federal stimulus money. It comes on the heels of the unceremonious dismissal of Gerald Walpin, the AmeriCorps inspector general who dared to probe financial shenanigans by Obama cronies. (See "Obama's AmeriCrooks and Cronies Scandal," June 17, 2009.) And it comes on the heels of the stifling of veteran Environmental Protection Agency employee Alan Carlin, the researcher who dared to question the Obama administration's conventional wisdom on global warming. (See "EPA's Game of Global Warming Hide-and-Seek," June 26, 2009.)
Question the timing? You betcha.
So, who is behind the railroading of the Amtrak inspector general? As with the story of the AmeriCorps firing, which has First Lady Michelle Obama's fingerprints on it, the Amtrak case smells like cronyism. Investigative journalist Robert Stacy McCain, who has watchdogged the watchdog stories, noted last week that Amtrak's vice president and general counsel is Eleanor Acheson.
Acheson, an old friend of Hillary Clinton, also has close ties to Vice President Joe "Mr. Amtrak" Biden. She hired Biden's nominations counsel Jonathan Meyer to serve as her deputy general counsel. The two had also worked together in the Clinton Justice Department. Meyer called his hiring at Amtrak by Acheson a "happy coincidence," according to Legal Times. (In another "happy coincidence," Biden's lobbyist son, Hunter, sits on Amtrak's board of directors.) Acheson oversees the very Law Department accused of interfering repeatedly with the taxpayer advocates in the inspector general's office.
Grassley has requested that Amtrak supply information on Weiderhold's unexpected retirement, as well as internal and personal materials related to his departure and the report on Amtrak managers' meddling. On the House side, Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced a probe Monday into Amtrak's actions. They zeroed in on Amtrak's choice of Lorraine Green to replace the "retired" Weiderhold.
Who is Lorraine Green? She's a former Amtrak human resources executive and faithful Democrat donor with no experience in the inspector general business. Her expertise? Managing "diversity initiatives" for the agency. Watchdog out. Lapdog in.
Can someone open a window? The fetid odor of Hope and Change is really starting to stink up the joint.