Transportation:

Activities of the Amtrak Inspector General

GAO-05-306R: Published: Mar 4, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 4, 2005.

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In a prior report we suggested that the consolidation of certain offices of inspectors general (IG) could strengthen the independence, efficiency, and effectiveness of the IGs in the federal government. Based on the potential for benefits and the similarities in their basic missions, we identified the Amtrak Office of Inspector General and the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General as among those Congress might consider for consolidation. We reported that by consolidating the office of the Amtrak IG with the larger DOT IG office, the resulting office would have a larger budget and more staff with which to achieve its mission. Potential benefits include an increased ability to improve the allocation of human and financial resources and to attract and retain an adequate and skilled workforce. We concluded that consolidation of smaller IG offices, if implemented properly with specific plans to mitigate potential weaknesses, is a means of achieving economies of scale and greater independence and of providing critical mass and range of skills, particularly given the ever increasing need for technical staff with specialized skills. This report responds to a Congressional request that, building on our prior report, we review the nature of the audit and investigative activities of the Amtrak IG and further consider the potential for consolidating the Amtrak IG office with the DOT IG office.

We found that, consistent with an increase in investigative budgets and staff, the number of investigations opened by the Amtrak IG increased by 29 percent over the 5-year period we reviewed. This increase was mostly in cases directed at fraud, theft, embezzlement, and other criminal activity by Amtrak employees. Our review of closed investigations over a 3-year period that included an 80 percent increase in the IG's fiscal year 2003 budget showed that both Amtrak union employees and Amtrak management officials were increasingly the subjects of investigations. However, as the IG's overall investigative activity increased, the Amtrak union employees as subjects grew as a percentage of total investigations while Amtrak management as subjects remained mostly constant. Also, for these 3 years, both Amtrak union employees and Amtrak management increased as the sources of allegations leading to investigations. As a total of closed investigations, Amtrak union employees increased as sources of allegations slightly more than Amtrak management. Regarding audit activity, the number of Amtrak IG audits has not changed significantly over the 5-year period, but there has been a discernable shift toward audits focused on internal operations, with fewer procurement-related audits. The IG stated that this change in focus stems from the office's perception of increased risk associated with cash transactions and ineffective controls as indicated by the increase in investigative cases. Consistent with the conclusions of our previous report, consolidation would likely provide opportunities to strengthen the ability of the combined Amtrak and DOT IG offices to improve the allocation of human and financial resources and to attract and retain a workforce with the talent, multidisciplinary knowledge, and up-to-date skills needed to ensure that the IG's office is equipped to achieve its oversight mission. Economies of scale and an enhanced critical mass of skills and resources could be provided by the relative size of the DOT IG office providing oversight. In addition, consolidation would enhance the independence of Amtrak oversight. At the same time a targeted plan that addresses the unique characteristics of Amtrak and the resulting needs for oversight would need to be put in place if the DOT and Amtrak IG offices were consolidated, in order to mitigate the potential risk of a loss of oversight in significant areas related uniquely to Amtrak. Amtrak is increasingly being viewed in the context of an overall transportation strategy involving highways, air travel, railroads, and environmental issues. Consolidation could serve to strengthen IG capacity to address these issues in that context.

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