Mar. 8, 2005 – Employees at the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) spend their careers investigating violations of federal civil service laws and employer retaliation against workers. However, when several employees at the federal agency filed a complaint last week accusing their boss of the same charges, they were in a peculiar situation â€“ the complaint had to be filed with their very own agency, since it functions as the only outlet for federal workers seeking redress.
The complainants allege that their boss, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, deliberately failed to fulfill the duties of his office by declining to investigate allegations of sexual orientation discrimination in federal workplaces and by "dumping" more than 600 whistleblower protection cases without legitimate reason. Furthermore, the employees allege that Bloch created a "hostile work environment" at the Office of Special Counsel itself, violating many of the same policies he is charged with enforcing at other federal workplaces.
The complaint asks Bloch to recuse himself from its investigation and to refer the complaint to the Presidentâ€™s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a government umbrella group of oversight agencies.
The employees were joined in their complaint by several public interest organizations, including the Government Accountability Project, the Project on Government Oversight, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the Human Rights Campaign.
The OSC became embroiled in controversy in last February, when Bloch, then newly appointed by President Bush, purged references to protections against sexual orientation discrimination in federal workplaces on the agencyâ€™s website. In addition to eliminating language about the protections from informational publications and complaint forms, the agency went so far as to remove a June 2003 press release about a recent settlement of a sexual orientation discrimination case filed against the Internal Revenue Service.
Complaints from gay rights groups and some Democratic members of Congress prompted a rebuke from President Bush after which Bloch issued a public statement backtracking from his earlier position on the issue. Nevertheless, the removed materials are still not on the website.
Bloch has also been criticized for his officeâ€™s handling of approximately 600 backlogged cases filed by whistleblowers. Bloch has taken credit for catching the agency up on cases; however, the employees allege that the agency did not eliminate the backlog by researching each claim. Rather, they charge, Bloch ordered his staff not to contact filers for more information if their complaints were not complete enough to immediately investigate. Instead, according to the complaint, Bloch ordered the cases closed without investigation.
For its part, the agency has denied the allegations against it. "It's absolutely false that any directive was given that whistleblowers should not be called," said Cathy Deeds, Cathy Deeds, an OSC spokesperson, reports Associated Press.
Tensions at the agency came to a head in mid-January, when Bloch selected several employees for involuntary reassignment to a different location in what was seen by some of his staff as a retaliatory effort to cleanse the office of workers he perceived as disloyal. Bloch, they allege, has been systematically replacing career public servants with "political appointees" sympathetic to Blochâ€™s methods.
As previously reported by The NewStandard, the affected employees were faced with the options of relocating from Washington, DC to Detroit or Dallas on 60 days notice or losing their jobs. Bloch followed through on his threat to fire almost all of the workers who refused to move, and according to the allegations listed in the complaint, then offered the dismissed employees several weeks of extra pay if they agreed to sign a waiver promising not to file complaints against Bloch with other agencies or discuss his actions with anyone.
The employees who filed the complaint also accuse Bloch of violating their First Amendment rights and the federal Anti-Gag Statute rights by prohibiting them from speaking to the press, Congress or other outside party about internal agency issues without Blochâ€™s permission.
In a press release announcing the complaint, Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said, "Scott Bloch as Special Counsel is like discovering that your fire chief is a closet arsonist."