Monday, May 12, 2008


PROGRESS REPORT The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency meant to protect federal employees from "prohibited personnel practices." Since President Bush's nominee Scott Bloch took over in 2004, however, this refuge has become a nightmare for government workers. LGBT employees have to fight an anti-gay bias, workers who disagree with Bloch's policies face retaliation, and politically-sensitive whistleblower cases are dismissed. The Office of Personnel Management's Inspector General has been investigating these allegations against Bloch. On May 6, FBI agents raided Bloch's home and office, focusing on whether he obstructed the federal investigation against him by erasing computer files in 2006. NPR reports that a grand jury in Washington issued 17 subpoenas overall, including for several other OSC staffers.

In February 2005, critics accused OSC of "improperly dismissing hundreds of whistleblower cases that had been pending when Bloch took over," in order to simply decrease the backlog. At other times, Bloch seems to have gone after cases for political gain. In April 2005, government watchdogs complained that he allowed his office to "sit on" a complaint that Condoleezza Rice, then-National Security Adviser, had "used government funds to travel in support of President Bush's re-election bid." By contrast, Bloch had ordered an immediate investigation into whether Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) had "improperly campaigned in a government workplace," even though the complaints had been filed around the same time. Last September, career OSC investigators began looking into whether partisan politics were a factor in the prosecution of former Democratic Alabama governor Don Siegelman. But on Oct. 11, Bloch "ordered the case file be closed immediately, saying that he had not authorized it." Bloch also stopped career investigators from opening a broad probe into whether Justice Department officials "considered political affiliation in their hiring and promotion decisions."

When Bloch took over OSC, he quickly appointed a deputy who had publicly spoken out against the "homosexual agenda." Bloch also "hired young lawyers from Ave Maria Law School, the conservative Catholic school founded by Domino's Pizza billionaire Tom Monaghan." More significantly, Bloch angered employees when, in 2004, he said that it may not be illegal for the government to discriminate against workers based on their sexual orientation. Without notifying other OSC staffers, he also removed all information on the subject from the agency's website and internal documents. The Washington Blade notes, "Information classifying sexual orientation discrimination as a 'prohibited personnel practice' had been included in various OSC documents and brochures since 1995." An embarrassed White House eventually subtly rebuked Bloch by issuing a "statement reaffirming a long-standing federal prohibition against sexual-orientation discrimination, and noting that the president 'expects federal agencies to enforce this policy.'"

Bloch has swiftly punished employees who have criticized him on his choice of cases and discriminatory policies, an example of the Bush administration's disdain for disagreement. "The Bush administration has absolutely not endorsed the concept of whistleblowing -- they see it as disloyalty," said one OSC employee. In January 2005, Bloch suddenly issued an order forcing 12 career OSC employees to accept reassignment within 10 days or face dismissal. Lawyers for the employees said that the reassigned were "those perceived to be loyal to his [Bloch's] predecessor, and those seen to have a 'homosexual agenda.'" In addition to this retaliation, the OPM IG is looking into whether Bloch violated federal laws that "guarantee federal employees the right to communicate with Congress." In early 2007, Bloch's deputy "sent staffers a memo asking them to inform OSC higher-ups when investigators contact them. Further, the memo read, employees should meet with investigators in the office, in a special conference room." Some employees raised intimidation questions, "saying the recommendations made them afraid to be interviewed in the probe." In 2006, Bloch also "erased all the files on his office personal computer," potentially as part of a cover-up. To do so, he bypassed the Office of Special Counsel's technicians and phoned Geeks on Call, the mobile PC-help service.


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