By Bryan Bender
WASHINGTON _ The inspector general of Amtrak unexpectedly resigned last night, becoming the third such federal official to leave prematurely since the Obama administration took office and the latest in a string of potentially controversial moves involving the government watchdogs.
Fred E. Weiderhold, a 35-year veteran of the agency who was responsible for rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse, is the most high-profile change among the group of senior government officials who have responsibility to conduct independent investigations of federal agencies and institutions.
"As Amtrak’s first and only Inspector General, Fred has made important contributions in helping the Board of Directors understand key issues facing the railroad and made useful recommendations to improve how we do business,” Amtrak Chairman Thomas Carper said in a statement this morning. "We thank him for his dedicated service to Amtrak and wish him well in his retirement.”
The federally-funded railroad's board appoints the inspector general.
Cliff Black, an Amtrak spokesman, confirmed that Weiderhold has been replaced by acting Inspector General Lorraine A. Green, saying only that Weiderhold "retired."
But several officials who asked not to be identified raised questions about the development, which is bound to set off alarm bells among some close Amtrak watchers.
The Amtrak press release is bound to only fuel conspiracies about what led to Weiderhold's abrupt departure.
It noted: "In addition, Carper said that he has confidence in the Inspector General staff and expects them to carry on their important work during this interim period, including providing effective oversight of how Amtrak is handling the stimulus funds it received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."
Weiderhold's departure comes after the inspector general of the Corporation for National Community Service was fired last week and the inspector general of the International Trade Commission was told her contract would not be renewed.
Meanwhile the Treasury Department has reportedly asked for a legal ruling from the Justice Department on how much power it has over the Special Inspector General for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief program, the administration's financial bailout of some banking and other investment firms, raising questions about how independent the administration wants it to be.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.