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Wednesday, February 23, 2005
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
Bush administration lunatics and incompetents aren't limited to the cabinet. Nope, they run deep and generally unseen like termites destroying from within. Take Scott Bloch, director of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), for example. Here's what the OSC is charged with:
OSC’s primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing. For a description of prohibited personnel practices (PPPs), click on the prohibited personnel practices link.
The Senate unanimously confirmed Mr. Bloch on December 9, 2003. On January 5, 2004, he was sworn in to serve a five-year term. So...how's he doing? I guess that depends:
MORE THAN A THOUSAND WHISTLEBLOWER CASES DUMPED — Special Counsel Dismisses Hundreds of Disclosures and Complaints in Past Year
Washington, DC — The U.S. Special Counsel has dismissed more than 1,000 whistleblower cases in the past year, according to a letter from the Bush-appointed Special Counsel released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Special Counsel appears to have taken action in very few, if any, of these cases and has yet to represent a single whistleblower in an employment case.
In a letter dated February 14, 2005 and addressed to U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Special Counsel Scott Bloch defends his stormy 13 months in office by pointing to a sharp drop in backlogged whistleblower cases.
“Everyone agrees that backlogs and delays are bad but they are not as bad as simply dumping the cases altogether,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that this letter is the first account that Bloch has released of his tenure and that his office’s report for FY 2004, which ended in October, is overdue. “If the Office of Special Counsel under Scott Bloch is not helping whistleblowers then there is no reason for the office to continue to exist.”
According to the figures released by Bloch, in the past year the Office of Special Counsel—
Dismissed or otherwise disposed of 600 whistleblower disclosures where civil servants have reported waste, fraud, threats to public safety and violations of law. Bloch has yet to announce a single case where he has ordered an investigation into the employee’s charges. Bloch says that 100 disclosures are still pending; and
Made 470 claims of retaliation disappear. In not one of these cases did Bloch’s office affirmatively represent a whistleblower to obtain relief before the civil service court system, called the Merit Systems Protection Board. Bloch says that another 30 retaliation cases remain in the backlog.
In order to speed dismissals, Bloch instituted a rule forbidding his staff from contacting a whistleblower if their disclosure was deemed incomplete or ambiguous. Instead, OSC would simply dismiss the matter. As a result, hundreds of whistleblowers never had a chance to justify why their cases had merit.
“According to Scott Bloch there is no waste, fraud or abuse in the federal government that deserves investigation,” stated Ruch, noting that there may be even more dismissals than Bloch reported because the numbers cited above are limited to what was defined as a backlog and do not include new cases.
Now why would Bloch think there was no "fraud or abuse in the federal government that deserves investigation"? I dunno, maybe this:
CRONY HIRING BY SPECIAL COUNSEL TARGET OF LAWSUIT — Former Boarding School Headmaster Retained as Consultant
Washington, DC — The agency that is supposed to police compliance with federal civil service rules is itself circumventing civil service rules by using no-bid consultants and hiring on a non-competitive basis, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is withholding records about its own personnel practices, including a contract with a former Catholic boarding school headmaster to serve as a special consultant, according to a lawsuit filed today by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act.
The current Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, is a religious conservative who had served as deputy director in the Justice Department's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Since becoming Special Counsel in January, Bloch has brought in a series of special consultants and non-competitive hires, including recent graduates of the ultra-conservative Ave Maria law school. A number of these new non-competitive hires have been assigned to career positions, working for career managers who had no input into their selection; in fact, the managers did not meet the new hires until the day they started work
"Scott Bloch's personnel practices are taken straight from The DaVinci Code rather than the civil service manual," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to what OSC staff members call Bloch's own "palace guard." "The mission of the Special Counsel is to protect the merit system, not subvert it."
PEER is seeking copies of contracts and work products for –
* Alan Hicks, a former headmaster of St. Gregory's Academy, a Catholic boarding school, who left in the wake of allegations concerning priests sexually preying on young students. Bloch has retained Hicks as a special consultant; and
* No-bid management consultant contracts let by Bloch.
Although OSC is struggling under large and growing backlogs of whistleblower disclosures and complaints, Bloch has increased the number of confidential assistants that report directly to him. By PEER's estimates, approximately 10 percent of the OSC staff positions are now personal picks by Bloch. Recently, the long-time Director of OSC's own Department of Human Resources, and her primary assistant, recently resigned their positions, and left the agency, giving only a few days notice.
Ironically, one of OSC's duties is to oversee administration of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Yet, when PEER requested its contract files, OSC sent a form letter stating that "due to the departure" of its FOIA officer "and a queue of pending requests" that there would be some delay in response. Three months later in September, PEER appealed OSC's continued non-response and received another, virtually identical form letter. PEER's suit under FOIA seeks the contract records it originally sought in June.
But wait! There's more! Some of Bloch's Greatest Hits:
At a press conference held on Wednesday, October 6, two Democrats, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York Democrat, and Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who is gay, called on President George W. Bush to “take the necessary action” against Scott Bloch, director of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), over what they claim is Bloch’s refusal to implement a longstanding employment policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. The two congressmen raised the issue in a letter that they, along with Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, who is a lesbian, and California Democrats Henry Waxman and George Miller, have sent to the White House.
Scott Bloch was chosen by Bush to head the OSC in February after Elaine Kaplan, a Clinton appointee, finished her term. Shortly after taking office, Bloch ordered the removal from the OSC Web site and training materials any statement that discrimination based on sexual orientation was a banned practice in the federal workplace. Bloch explained in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, that because he was in the process of “evaluating many aspects of the agency” he removed such language until he could determine whether sexual orientation was a distinct category over which the OSC had jurisdiction.
After several lawmakers voiced their concerns about Bloch’s decisions, Bush issued a statement this past March stating his intent to continue the federal policy made by former President Clinton’s executive that “prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation.” The statement also said Bush expected to all federal agencies to enforce this policy.
However, after stating that he agreed with this policy, Bloch refused to answer Frank in writing of whether or not the OSC could enforce sexual orientation discrimination policies, nor did he reinstate sexual orientation discrimination as a prohibited personnel practice on the OSC Web site or in its training materials. Bloch then subsequently wrote to Frank in a July letter that discrimination simply based on sexual orientation did not come under OSC purview, and that investigating a discrimination complaint based on an employee’s sexual orientation would have to fall under the “conduct” prohibited in personnel practices. The regulation states that a federal employee “cannot be discriminated against for personal conduct which is not adverse to on-the-job performance,” such as the example used in an OSC training brochure, a federal employee attending a gay pride event.
“He appears to maintain the illogical position that gay conduct is protected but that employees who suffer discrimination because they are GLBT have no protection,” Frank said at the recent press conference. “In effect, Mr. Bloch appears to be replacing the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ with a policy of ‘Don’t Be,’” Frank added.
Congressman Engel called Bloch a “rogue agent” who should be terminated under the “neglect of duty statute.”
Bad news there:
The OSC is an independent body charged with defending federal employees who disclose incidents of abuse, waste or mismanagement, or who have been discriminated against in the workplace because of political affiliation or personal status. To protect the OSC from outside pressure, the agency’s director is appointed for five years and cannot be removed except in cases of illegal misconduct. (my emphasis)
Sick yet? You will be:
February 8 -- The U.S. Special Counsel has handed out termination papers to seven headquarters staff members who refused involuntary reassignment to a proposed new office in Detroit and an existing office in Dallas. The seven were given one week – the minimum period allowed – to change their minds or be removed from the federal service in 30 days, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Last month, Scott Bloch, the Bush-appointed Special Counsel, abruptly ordered 12 headquarters employees, on penalty of removal, to relocate to Dallas, Oakland and a newly created Detroit field office. Originally, five employees accepted the reassignments; with four of those five indicating that their acceptance was under duress. One of the four who accepted the reassignment under duress has found a position outside OSC and has submitted a letter of resignation. The remaining seven staff members declined the involuntary transfers and now are being removed.
The 12 reassigned employees represent more than a fifth of the Special Counsel headquarters legal and investigative staff. Bloch did not consult beforehand with the people he selected for relocation nor did he ask for volunteers who might be willing to move. All 12 are career employees hired before Bloch became Special Counsel, an agency with the mission of protecting federal whistleblower and merit system rights.
“The person giving out these pink slips should be the one on the receiving end,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is suing Bloch to obtain copies the no-bid consultant contracts he let out to friends and copies of the work produced. “In federal court, Scott Bloch is claiming that he does not have enough staff to even respond to Freedom of Information Act requests and then a week later he fires seven more staff—go figure.”
Bloch’s 13-month tenure as Special Counsel has been marred by repeated missteps, including an embarrassing reversal on protecting federal employees on the basis of sexual orientation, issuing a gag order to his staff to deter what he described as “leakers,” and sewing confusion during the height of last year’s presidential campaign with a directive that candidates could not make campaign appearances inside federal structures.
We won't classify Mr. Bloch as an incompetent of Condi-proportions. He's more the sneaky evil type: corrupt to the bone.
Go here and poke around about Mr. Bloch's buddy, Alan Hicks.