By William Fisher
In one of the more ironic episodes of the Bush Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week raided the office and home of the senior official in charge of protecting Federal whistleblowers on suspicion of whistleblower retaliation within his own agency – while he was investigating possible criminal acts within the White House.
Since 2005, Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has been under investigation by the Inspector General of the White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM), at the behest of the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
OPM’s investigation centers on charges that Bloch retaliated against whistleblowers who complained they were transferred out of Washington for political reasons because they disagreed with Bloch’s policies. In the raid, FBI agents sized computers and records.
As OPM’s investigation moved forward, Bloch launched an investigation of the White House by combining several unrelated high-profile allegations, including last year’s firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, thousands of missing emails to and from former White House political advisor Karl Rove, and political briefings of General Services Administration managers, in violation of the Hatch Act.
The missing emails – also demanded by the U.S. Congress – are said to relate to Rove’s alleged involvement in the U.S. attorneys’ dismissals. The Hatch Act forbids putting political pressure on career government employees.
In yet another irony, the FBI raid on Bloch’s office and home came as Congress prepared to mark Washington Whistleblower Week, May 12-16, and on the sixth anniversary of the passage of the No FEAR Act in 2002. The act requires the government to compensate whistleblowers for judgments, awards, and settlements in equal employment opportunity (EEO) and whistleblower cases.
The Administration’s investigation of Bloch comes as a result of a complaint filed by his own staff members and whistleblower groups alleging a host of misconduct charges against Bloch. The complaint charged he discriminated against OSC employees by imposing illegal gag orders, cronyism, and retaliation in forcing employee relocations and the resignations of one-fifth of OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff.
Bloch insists that the ‘forced removals’ were part of a reorganization that sent 12 career OSC employees to new assignments in other cities “to improve performance, not punish any employees.”
One part of that complaint concerns Bloch’s improper interference with the handling of Hatch Act cases, the same statute that Bloch is now invoking as the basis for looking at White House political briefings.
Bloch’s investigation of the White House follows allegations that the Justice Department (DOJ) fired eight U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, that senior officials including Rove violated the Presidential Records Act by using an email account of the Republican National Committee and failing to archive these communications, and that Bush appointees delivered politically-charged briefings to career civil service employees.
Bloch contends that one of the fired U.S. Attorneys, David Iglesias, suffered discriminatory treatment because of his 45-day absence for military service.
Public interest groups including Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) have charged that Bloch has irreconcilable conflicts of interest in his investigations of the White House.
Jeff Ruch, Executive Director PEER told IPS, "Scott Bloch gives opportunism a bad name."
“It makes no sense for Scott Bloch to investigate the White House while the White House investigates Bloch,” Ruch said, noting that Bloch has told allies that the White House has twice asked him to resign. Bloch can only be removed for cause. “
The 600 disclosure cases that Bloch has admitted were dismissed are all instances where civil servants came forward to report waste, fraud and abuse, yet OSC decided that there was no need to investigate," Ruch said.
He added, "Dismissing all 600 cases and deciding that not one deserved investigation -- because, in the words of the OSC spokesperson, they were all ‘minor matters or issues previously investigated’ -- stretches credulity."
“Scott Bloch brings the investigative acumen of an Inspector Clouseau to a very complicated and delicate matter,” he said.
POGO’s Director of Investigations, Beth Daley, said “It is not that Bloch has lacked the opportunities to conduct complex investigations since every virtually whistleblower in town goes to the OSC, but Bloch has ignored them all. It is only when a probe serves his political agenda that he latches onto it as if it were the last helicopter leaving Saigon.”
“What we have here is a mutual investigation society. This is the bureaucratic equivalent of a mouse trying to swallow an elephant. The OSC has no standing to conduct the investigation and Scott Bloch cannot possibly investigate the White House while it is investigating him,” Daly declared.
"Bloch has yet to announce a single case where he has ordered an investigation into the employee's charges", PEER charges. The organization says, "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.
And Melanie Sloan, executive director of another public interest organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said of Bloch, “Having transformed OSC into a virtual black hole for legitimate complaints of retaliation, Bloch is decidedly not the right person to tackle the issues of misconduct and illegality that surround top White House officials. There is a serious question as to whether Bloch will just provide cover for an administration that has been covering for him.”
The US Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Its basic authorities come from three federal statutes, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Hatch Act.
Its mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing. It is intended to provide a secure channel for federal workers -- except those in the FBI and intelligence agencies -- to disclose information about various workplace improprieties, including a violation of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement and waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial danger to public health or safety.
The OPM Inspector General’s investigation is the third probe into Bloch’s operation. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a U.S. Senate subcommittee both conducted investigations into mass dismissal of hundreds of whistleblower cases, and Bloch’s targeting of gay employees for removal while refusing to investigate cases involving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
President Bush nominated Bloch for a five-year term in 2003. He was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. From 2001-2003, Bloch served as Associate Director and then Deputy Director and Counsel to the Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Justice.