WASHINGTON - December 22 - The Government Accountability Office issued a report this week blasting the Bush-appointed U.S. Special Counsel for ignoring competitive bidding rules in handing out consultant contracts. GAO also recommended creating an independent channel whereby Office of Special Counsel employees can blow the whistle on further abuses by the Special Counsel.
The GAO report confirmed charges made by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and other public interest groups about abuses by a circle of political and personal cronies that Bush-appointed Special Counsel Scott Bloch has brought into the agency that is supposed to be protecting merit principles and whistleblowers in the federal civil service system.
During his two-year tenure, Bloch has dismissed hundreds of whistleblower cases and proceeded with less than a handful. OSC employees charge that Bloch, who has not used the competitive merit system to make a single hire, relied upon his political appointees and special consultants to screen out valid cases.
“Cronyism has run amok in the agency designated to combat cronyism,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. Among the GAO findings are that –
- Bloch and his top deputies violated competitive bidding and pricing rules in executing a sole source consultant contract to a firm called Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI) to perform an assessment of OSC operations. Ironically, Bloch ignored the recommendations produced by the MPRI report, produced at a cost of $140,000, and instead implemented a series of ill-advised moves that drove out experienced staff;
- Bloch hired his son’s former boarding school headmaster, Alan Hicks, as a special consultant – though the nature of his “special” expertise still remains unclear. Bloch gave Hicks access to 50 whistleblower case files to make closure recommendations. In some instances, Hicks called up the whistleblowers directly. Hicks’ work product has still not been made public. PEER is suing in federal district court to obtain a copy of the six-page memo he produced at a $53.83 per hour pay scale, slightly less than the maximum consultant rate; and
- OSC employees themselves lack viable avenues for blowing the whistle on abuses within the office. Earlier this year, a group of OSC employees filed a whistleblower complaint about Bloch and his top deputies. The complaint, which by law had to be filed with Bloch, sat in limbo for more than seven months before it was finally assigned to the Inspector General for the Office of Personnel Management to investigate.
“These whistleblower reports from civil servants, who risk their careers by making these reports, are supposed to be reviewed for legal sufficiency, not grammar. If his son’s school headmaster is qualified to make these calls, can we expect to see Scott Bloch’s hairdresser next?” asked Ruch. “How many more smoking guns will be needed to fire Scott Bloch?”