09 February 2011

Railroading Cronyism and Corruption

The proposal by the Obama Administration to spend an additional $53 billion over the next six years on passenger rail improvements has already been scrutinized on the rail fundings dubious merits.  But during the photo op at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Statement to announce the initiative, Vice President Joe Biden half joked “I’m like the omnibudman for Amtrak”.  Biden’s half witticism was not far from the truth.

When Biden first ran for President in 1987, he staged a Biden Express Whistle Stop campaign, which Biden plagiarized from Harry Truman’s famous 1948 Presidential campaign.  During the 2008 general election campaign, Biden had a press availability on an Amtrak train to highlight the 7,900 round trips over thirty years that he made commuting between Wilmington, Delaware and Washington, DC for his tenure in the United States Senate.  At that time, Biden promised that the Obama administration would be the most  ``train-friendly administration in history.” Based on the $10.5 billion already allocated and the $53 billion proposed, that was a promise made and promise kept.

The commuting costs for riding on the Amtrak Acela would be beyond the pocketbook of most consumers, but there is some question as to whether Biden’s ticket to ride was at a special rate. Others in the pajamahadeen have uncovered other deep discounts for federal officials taking “joy rides” on Amtrak. I doubt that the Lamestream Media will investigate this. But after all, it is a government business and Amtrak ought to threat its owners well.

Alas, Amtrak’s issues are not just limited to just federal free loaders.  Michelle Malkin has been tenacious at uncovering cronyism working on the railroad, and noting how that threatens both out pocketbooks and our national security.  In 2009 , an independent audit from the Wilkie Farr and Gallagher law firm concluded in a damning 94 page report that the independence and the effectiveness Amtrak’s Inspector General’s office had been “substantially impaired”.

This independent audit of Amtrak was triggered after the sudden “retirement” of veteran Amtrak Inspector General Fred Weiderhold in June, 2009. Weiderhold was the whisteblower who publicized the Amtrak Law Departments intrusions on the IG’s investigation of $1.3 billion in rail stimulus funds and how the Amtrak GC spent $5 million in federal stimulus money to hamstring his probes.  This helps Senator Grassley (R-IA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA 49th), Rep. Bill Schuster (R-PA 9th)  and Rep. John Mica's (R-FL 7th) skepticism about lavishing such expenditures on the federal passenger rail system as it is currently organized.

Coincidentally, the head of Amtrak’s General Counsel is Eleanor Acheson, a close friend of Vice President Biden.  Acheson hired Jonathan Meyers, a former Biden Senate aide, as her Deputy General Counsel, which she just considers a “happy coincidence” And Vice President Biden’s son Hunter is on the Amtrak Board of Directors.  Quasi-governmental  institutions are officially prohibited from lobbying Congress, yet Hunter Biden is recognized as “an effective advocate from the government railroad system” by Politico. Curiouser and curiouser.

This serendipitous coincidence of cronyism is not confinded to Amtrak management.  General Electric was a top Obama campaign supporter which also owned MSNBC and devoted lots of positive media to green technology stands to greatly benefit from the expansive railroad initiatives. GE Transportation is the leading manufacturer of diesel-locomotive engines.  And former G.E. C.E.O. Jeffery Immelt has recently been named to head the new White House Jobs Counsel.  The White House promotes their lavish spending on railroads as keeping America on track for economic opportunity and job creation.  Isn’t that convenient?

This record of Amtrak mismanagement was not confined to the Obama Administration’s tenure. The George W. Bush Administration attempted to zero out Amtrak funding due to mismanagement in 2005 but that privatization plan was sidetracked. As a Senator, Joe Biden was  was the Amtrak designated Champion of the Rails who lobbied to keep funding for a perennial money losing government funded Amtrak operations.  In fact, Biden co-sponsored re-authorization of Amtrack in 2008 when President George W. Bush doubled Amtrak funding to $13 billon over 5 years.   The Obama administration wants to quadruple that amount in a self proclaimed era of economic austerity.

Aside from being a sop to Unions and continuing to grow government to be a Leviathan, Amtrak is an example of another government sponsored enterprise which allows Democrat politicians to featherbed for their cronies as well as to ensure cheap commuting costs for our elected and appointed elites.  Think of it as Fanny Mae with choo-choo trains.

H/T Michelle Malkin

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