Trains For America

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Former Amtrak Inspector General received handsome severance package, signed non-disclosure agreement

This story just gets wilder and wilder. To be honest, it is very disappointing. I have kept up with Amtrak over the hears because of an interest in transportation, and it is also clear that Amtrak is a kind of miniature model of anything that might go wrong in government.

One must presume that the revelations we are about to hear are not isolated to Amtrak. Of course, “everybody else does it” is no excuse whatsoever.

In the context of Amtrak’s very limited budget, the amount of alleged mismanaged legal fees is staggering. Republicans will squeal to high heaven. The good news is that this is coming out. Local communities, railroad passengers and ethical employees of Amtrak should not be punished for the misdeeds of others.

Politico has the latest news on a substantial severance package which includes a contract not to disclose certain information. This kind of covenant clearly violates the public interest, and is possibly illegal. I am sure some of you have an idea on that.

Amtrak is technically a private corporation, not an agency of the federal government, and its inspector general is appointed by the chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, not the president, as is the case with other inspectors general.

According to the terms of his separation agreement, Weiderhold is expected “not to disparage publicly or privately the company, its employees, services, prospects or products.” Also, it required that he “make no internal or external statement regarding his resignation, whether orally or by electronic or hard-copy written communication (including but not limited to e-mail) without providing the company an opportunity to review the communication in advance.”

My goodness. Amtrak not only paid Fred Weiderhold Jr. a number of cash disbursements, it paid his COBRA for 18 months. Is that legal? I am just thinking out loud now, but a law called “ERISA” comes to mind. I thought you had to treat all employees the same, but I am way out of my area of expertise (and that is not a very long trip).

This is bad news for Boardman, I think. The continued management instability at Amtrak can only destabilize the operation of what ought to be an important part of our national transportation system.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics

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August 2009