A joint report issued by Republicans on the Senate Finance and House Oversight and Government Reform committees finds that Amtrak’s management interfered with investigations by its inspector general and effectively forced his resignation in 2009.
Fred Weiderhold, who was appointed Amtrak’s first inspector general in 1989, had “exposed wrongdoing, gross mismanagement, and criminal activity at the highest levels of Amtrak.” In 2007, Amtrak officials began a “systematic campaign” to impede Weiderhold’s investigation into excessive fees paid to outside law firms, which culminated in his ouster.
Amtrak management has a long history of shady behavior. The government-owned railroad, which has been dependent on billions of taxpayer dollars for its survival, is notorious for engaging in financial shenanigans to obfuscate its dismal performance.
For example, documents recently obtained by the Washington Times revealed the existence of a previously undisclosed seven-year government investigation into attempts by Amtrak officials to falsify financial data:
What authorities ultimately unraveled was that two former Amtrak officials, in fiscal 2001, either booked false or incorrect accounting entries in Amtrak’s monthly financial statements or else failed to report the activities. In turn, these same misleading accounting entries helped make Amtrak’s monthly financial results appear closer to budget than they really were.
Despite forty years of poor performance and billions of taxpayer dollars wasted, Congress continues to keep Amtrak on life support with a steady stream of subsidies. This treatment of misbehaving government managers contrasts with congressional “show trials” in which officials at private businesses are hauled before congressional committees for purposes of scoring political points with the public.
Instead of publicly berating energy industry officials over high gas prices, for example, policymakers should focus their attention on problems in their own back yard. The Republicans on the Senate Finance and House Oversight and Government Reform committees deserve credit for doing just that. However, as this Cato essay argues, the ultimate goal should be to privatize Amtrak.