June 19,2009

Grassley seeks information about possible interference with work of Amtrak IG

WASHINGTON --- Senator Chuck Grassley has asked the Office of the Inspector General for Amtrak to follow through on the agreement made by the Inspector General who retired yesterday to provide information about interference by Amtrak in the oversight work of the Inspector General.

Grassley made his request in a letter sent to E. Bret Coulson, the Deputy Inspector General. Grassley said he is concerned about the way Amtrak leaders may have sought to tamp down efforts by the Inspector General to identify mismanagement.

“I’ve been told about interference that raises flags in a big way, including third parties being told to first send documents under subpoena by the Inspector General to Amtrak for review, and the Inspector General being chastised for communicating directly with congressional appropriations and authorizing committees,” Grassley said.

This month, Grassley has asked the White House for an explanation of the firing of the AmeriCorps Inspector General, after the Inspector General issued two reports of mismanagement and abusive spending by AmeriCorps grantees. Grassley has also asked the International Trade Commission to account for its termination of its Inspector General who had been repeatedly hired for six-month increments and been given outstanding performance reviews. In both cases, Grassley said the administration failed to comply with a law enacted last year requiring Congress to be notified 30 days in advance of the dismissal of an Inspector General and given the reasons for the firing. Then-Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored the legislation along with Grassley.

“Inspectors general are watchdogs over the federal bureaucracy, and the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 is supposed to better safeguard their independence so they can do their jobs for taxpayers and program stakeholders,” Grassley said. “The President has said he wants more accountable government, and keeping good watchdogs on the job is fundamental to that goal. Inspectors general need to be strengthened, not undermined.”

This week, Grassley also has asked the Treasury Secretary to put an end to documented resistance from the Treasury Department to requests for information from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Senator Grassley was an advocate for creating a Special IG for TARP to try to hold the program accountable and co-sponsored legislation to strengthen the ability of the Special IG to conduct oversight after the TARP program changed its original mission. Earlier this year, Senator Grassley also battled the White House after it tried to subject requests of the Special IG to the red tape of the Paperwork Reduction Act.

“The grassroots is furious about the way TARP dollars have been used and what looks like a lack of accountability for this massive infusion of tax dollars,” Grassley said. “It’s added injury to hear about the Treasury Department slowing down the work of the watchdog who’s supposed to track the money. One of the biggest lessons of the last year is that the public deserves more transparency and, in turn, accountability from New York and Washington.”

Grassley has long worked to empower inspectors general to conduct effective oversight of the federal bureaucracy and he has held inspectors general themselves accountable for meeting the requirements of the jobs.

The text of Grassley’s letter to the Amtrak Office of the Inspector General is below. The other letters, regarding the AmeriCorps, ITC and TARP inspectors general, are posted at http://finance.senate.gov and http://grassley.senate.gov.