Politics & Policy

Fast Train to Nowhere

Who’s policing ‘Amtrak Joe’ Biden’s rail boondoggles?

At Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station on Tuesday, lifelong government-rail promoter Vice President Joe Biden unveiled a $53 billion high-speed train initiative and half-joked: “I’m like the ombudsman for Amtrak.” As with most gaffetastic Biden-isms, the remark should prompt more heartburn than hilarity. Just who exactly is looking out for taxpayers when it comes to federal rail spending?

Vigorous independent oversight of public infrastructure binges is especially critical given the nation’s long history of mass-transit slush funds, cost overruns, and union-monopolized construction projects to nowhere. Among the new projects championed by the Obama administration: a $10 billion New Jersey–to–New York commuter-rail tunnel, pushed by Senate Democrats, that state officials won’t pay for but think everyone else in the nation should be forced to subsidize. When Biden talks about “seizing the future,” he’s talking about seizing your wallet for his party’s electoral security.

Alas, the White House’s hostility toward vigilant taxpayer watchdogs rivals Michael Vick’s. And the Obama administration’s political abuse of the Amtrak inspector general’s office, still under congressional investigation, is a recipe for yet more porkulus-style waste.

In June 2009, longtime veteran Amtrak inspector general Fred Weiderhold was abruptly “retired” — just as the government-subsidized rail service faced mounting complaints about its meddling in financial audits and probes. Weiderhold had blown the whistle on overzealous intrusions by the agency’s law department into his investigations of $1.3 billion in rail stimulus money and exposed how Amtrak’s legal counsel had usurped the watchdog’s $5 million portion of federal stimulus dollars to hamstring his probes. Even more threatening to the Democratic attorneys’ cabal, Weiderhold discovered that the federal rail bureaucracy was retaining outside law firms beyond the independent watchdog’s reach and obstructing subpoenas issued to an outside financial adviser.

In September 2010, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) released a report concluding that the Amtrak board removed the agency’s inspector general without required prior notice to Congress and despite the inspector general’s effective track record of “exposing waste, fraud and abuse at the highest levels within Amtrak.”

The Transportation Department’s inspector general is now conducting its own independent probe of Weiderhold’s removal. And two weeks ago, Issa revealed that the new Amtrak IG, Ted Alves, is risking his own neck by probing into whether Amtrak bureaucrats on a fishing expedition misused the e-mail system by searching for communiqués between his office and Congress regarding the Weiderhold scandal.

Grassley is right: “Independence is the most important element for making the inspector general system work. If independence is compromised, either by an inspector general or by agency leaders, then taxpayers are left without a watchdog and a major opportunity for accountability in government is lost. When the system gets compromised, there need to be consequences in order to try to prevent it from happening again.”

Amtrak’s notorious book-cooking, however, has gone unabated. The agency was reprimanded during the Bush administration for misleading Congress about its solvency. But former employees faced no criminal charges for fudging the agency’s profit-and-loss statements.

Compounding matters now, cronyism runs rampant in the federal rail bureaucracy. Biden’s lobbyist son, Hunter, sits on the Amtrak board of directors. Amtrak vice president Eleanor Acheson is a close pal of — you guessed it — Joe Biden. She oversees the very law department that is accused of interfering repeatedly with the taxpayer advocates in the inspector general’s office. Acheson hired Biden’s former Senate staffer Jonathan Meyer as her deputy general counsel. Meyer called it a “happy coincidence.”

In another such fortuitous coincidence, one of the top beneficiaries of the new White House rail bailout is GE Transportation — the leading manufacturer of diesel-electric locomotives. President Obama recently named GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head the new White House jobs council.

With Team Obama’s social engineers and legal fixers steering the federal gravy train, the light at the end of the spending tunnel seems grimly dim.

— Michelle Malkin is the author of Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks & Cronies (Regnery 2011). Her e-mail address is malkinblog@gmail.com. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Most Popular

White House

Implications of the Flynn Pardon

President Trump granted a pardon to Michael Flynn, his former national-security adviser, today. Flynn had pled guilty to lying to FBI agents about conversations, during the 2016 transition, with the Russian ambassador about sanctions. Flynn’s pardon should bring to an end one gross violation of the ... Read More
White House

Implications of the Flynn Pardon

President Trump granted a pardon to Michael Flynn, his former national-security adviser, today. Flynn had pled guilty to lying to FBI agents about conversations, during the 2016 transition, with the Russian ambassador about sanctions. Flynn’s pardon should bring to an end one gross violation of the ... Read More
History

The 1620 Project

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower arrived on the eastern coast of North America. She had weathered the slings and arrows of maritime misfortune for almost ten weeks at that point, but the passengers thought the discomfort of crossing a small price to pay for passage to the Promised Land. After all, these were ... Read More
History

The 1620 Project

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower arrived on the eastern coast of North America. She had weathered the slings and arrows of maritime misfortune for almost ten weeks at that point, but the passengers thought the discomfort of crossing a small price to pay for passage to the Promised Land. After all, these were ... Read More
History

Thanksgiving Is Not a Lie

We live in a time of heedless iconoclasm, and so one of the country’s oldest traditions is under assault. Thanksgiving is increasingly portrayed as, at best, based on falsehoods and, at worst, a whitewash of genocide against Native Americans. The New York Times ran a piece the other day titled, “The ... Read More
History

Thanksgiving Is Not a Lie

We live in a time of heedless iconoclasm, and so one of the country’s oldest traditions is under assault. Thanksgiving is increasingly portrayed as, at best, based on falsehoods and, at worst, a whitewash of genocide against Native Americans. The New York Times ran a piece the other day titled, “The ... Read More
Culture

On Being Grateful

My mother always enjoyed making Thanksgiving dinner. She took a traditional Southern woman’s pride in being a good cook, following her mother’s recipes, and my family made a rare display of kindness by declining to inform her that she was a fairly dreadful cook, one whose kitchen alchemy on the electric range ... Read More
Culture

On Being Grateful

My mother always enjoyed making Thanksgiving dinner. She took a traditional Southern woman’s pride in being a good cook, following her mother’s recipes, and my family made a rare display of kindness by declining to inform her that she was a fairly dreadful cook, one whose kitchen alchemy on the electric range ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More