WASHINGTON - February 12 - A slow-moving investigation of retaliation complaints within the federal agency charged with whistleblower protection has ground to a halt due to obstruction by the probe’s target, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The beleaguered head of the Office of Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, is now insisting that when outside investigators contact staff members to set up interviews, the investigators must make the appointments through his office.
The original whistleblower complaint against Bloch focuses on illegal gag orders, cronyism and retaliation in forcing the resignations of one-fifth of OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff. First filed in March 2005, the complaint was assigned by Clay Johnson, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and the Budget, to the Inspector General, Office of Personnel Management (OPM-IG) in October 2005.
On January 30, 2007, Rebecca McGinley, one of Bloch’s political deputies, sent an email to all OSC employees directing she be notified if OPM-IG contacts any of them for an interview. She also asserted that OPM-IG must conduct all interviews at OSC headquarters, unless the employee affirmatively declares his or her discomfort with speaking to investigators at the worksite.
Ms. McGinley claimed that this is consistent with the procedure OSC itself follows when conducting retaliation investigations. In fact, OSC does not follow such a policy. Its website confirms that “OSC reserves the right to contact witnesses directly when appropriate” rather than scheduling interviews through the agency which is the subject of the investigation.
Not surprisingly, OSC staff members report that they are afraid to speak with OPM-IG investigators for fear they will be reported back to Bloch. As a consequence, the16-month investigation has stalled.
On February 1st, Debra Katz, the attorney for the current and former OSC employees who filed the retaliation complaint, as well as for PEER, the Project On Government Oversight, the Government Accountability Project and the Human Rights Campaign, wrote a letter of protest to Clay Johnson. In that letter, Ms. Katz pointed out that the McGinley email made false claims designed to intimidate potential witnesses and was only the latest in a series of actions by Bloch to obstruct the OPM-IG probe. Other actions have included suggestions that all witnesses interviewed by the OPM-IG provide Bloch with affidavits describing what they had been asked and how they responded.
“It is beyond ironic that the attorneys and investigators within OSC who are supposed to be protecting others from retaliation are themselves trapped within an occupational gulag,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the OSC staff is kept in the dark about the efforts to address Bloch’s obstruction of the investigation. On February 6, when PEER tried to email copies of the Ms. Katz’s letter of protest to OSC staff, the emails were blocked. “If the Whistleblower Protection Act does not work for these specialists, why would we expect it to work for anyone else?”
Several members of Congress have already called on Bloch to resign and media reports indicate the White House is unhappy with Bloch and would like to see him leave. Bloch has counterattacked by enlisting sympathetic interest groups to pressure the Bush administration to call off the investigation entirely. His allies claim the Bush administration ordered the probe only due to pressure from gay rights organizations.
“If Scott Bloch had any decency he would resign,” Ruch added, noting that the Office of Special Counsel is scheduled for re-authorization in this session of Congress. “The increasingly bizarre tenure of Scott Bloch calls into question the continued existence of the entire Office of Special Counsel.”