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New Amtrak President Alex Kummant engineered a major management restructuring on Monday, firing five top officials and naming Eleanor Acheson, assistant attorney general for policy development under President Bill Clinton, as the passenger rail’s general counsel. The move comes after a call earlier this month by outgoing House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) for the Department of Justice to investigate Amtrak’s legal department and outside counsel after the release of an inspector general’s report, which found that Amtrak mismanaged more than $100 million in legal bills. The congressmen also called for Amtrak’s inspector general to further investigate Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ expenses and billing of secretarial work. In a Dec. 18 letter to Amtrak employees, Kummant announced the firing of Chief Financial Officer David Smith, Assistant Vice President of Transportation Thomas Schmidt, Police Chief Alfred Broadbent, Vice President for Marketing and Sales Barbara Richardson, and Vice President of Corporate Communications William Schulz. The letter also stated that Acheson will replace Alicia Serfaty as general counsel and corporate secretary. “While change can be difficult, this reorganization is the result of a great deal of consideration,” Kummant said in the letter. He also said the “restructuring and personnel changes put in place the team that will drive the vision and the future of our company.” Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black says the changes were not a response to the inspector general’s report on its legal department. “I can’t associate it directly with the report. Corporate reorganizations are common under new CEOs. This is no different than that of any other large corporation under new leadership.” Serfaty has headed up Amtrak’s 160-person legal department since 2002. Until Acheson comes on board in mid-January, Joseph Bress, Amtrak labor relations vice president, will serve as acting general counsel. According to the Kummant letter, Serfaty will remain at Amtrak and will “assist Kummant in the transition period” in her new position as counsel to the president. The New York Times has reported that Serfaty would act in that capacity for three months, but Black could not confirm whether or not Serfaty’s position was temporary. No other personnel in Amtrak’s legal department have been fired.
• Lawmakers Seek to Probe Amtrak Bills (December 11, 2006)• Report Shows Law Firms’ Railroad Ties (November 6, 2006)• Lawyers Take Amtrak for a Ride (October 30, 2006)

Acheson headed the Justice Department office responsible for vetting judges under Clinton. After leaving the Justice Department in 2001, Acheson moved to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s government affairs department. Kummant declined to be interviewed for this story. Despite the changes, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Amtrak oversight is far from over. “We’ve been through the Acela fiasco, the brake fiasco, the food service fiasco, and now the latest is the legal fiasco,” says Mica, who will be the ranking Republican member on the House Transportation Committee in the next Congress. More than 200 Amtrak employees outside the legal department have been fired for theft or financial irregularities in the past couple of years. “Some people say I’m Amtrak’s biggest opponent. I’m actually the strongest supporter of a national passenger rail system and high-speed rail system,” says Mica. “But I want to bring in some of the efficiencies that the private sector can bring in.” Mica says he plans to unveil a major legislative initiative early next year to revamp the northeast corridor and high-speed rail system. Amtrak’s inspector general is expected to report back to the House committee regarding Manatt’s legal bills by February.

Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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