Statement in response to the firing of Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn
Contact: Colin Peppard – 202-222-0747 or 202-841-4491 (mobile)
Colin Peppard, Transportation Policy Coordinator
Friends of the Earth criticizes the Amtrak Board of Directors’ decision today to fire president and CEO David Gunn as politically motivated and a loss for Amtrak. The Board has not provided any legitimate reason for this drastic action. Considering Gunn’s success in putting Amtrak on a positive path, this decision appears to be part and parcel of the Bush administration’s elevation of blind loyalty over effective service. The decision to fire David Gunn begs the question of whose interest the board is serving – the riders’ or the Bush administration’s.
Consisting entirely of Bush appointees, the Board cited the need for “a different type of leader” as the reason for Gunn’s dismissal. However, it is hard to understand what results a “different type of leader” would produce that Gunn has not. In just three years under Gunn’s leadership, ridership increased to record levels, debt service was brought under control, and spiraling operating expenses were reduced.
With Amtrak finally making real progress with needed reforms, it makes no sense to fire an experienced, qualified leader with a track record of success. As we have seen recently, a willingness to act as the President’s yes-manis often more important that real qualifications or experience.
The Bush administration is out of touch with the Congress and the American people on the Amtrak issue. Both the House of Representatives and Senate have resisted the president’s efforts, voting numerous times in opposition to President Bush’s policies. David Gunn also stridently opposed the President’s Amtrak policies, and his refusal to bow to White House pressure cost him his job.
Mr. Gunn, a Republican, came out of retirement to reform and improve the Amtrak system. His experience running the New York, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. transit systems, along with his non-partisan refusal to play politics, made him especially well-qualified to lead Amtrak. He has won widespread praise from across the political spectrum for his successful push to streamline Amtrak and increase efficiency.
Friends of the Earth supports rail travel and Amtrak because trains are more energy efficient and less polluting then autos and airplanes. With gas prices on the rise and financial instability in the airline industry, America needs a well-managed Amtrak in its portfolio of transportation options. Strong leadership, a commitment to long-term viability, and freedom from partisan politics are essential for this to happen.
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