The head of the federal office responsible for protecting government whistle-blowers, who last year removed references to sexual orientation from the agency's Web site, is now the focus of a complaint filed Thursday by some of his own employees, who say he is undermining laws that encourage workers to expose wrongdoing. Scott Bloch, who runs the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, refuses to enforce laws that protect whistle-blowers in the federal workplace, especially gays, and is retaliating against his own staff, the employees alleged.
Bloch's office called the allegations a set of "baseless charges" and said they would be forwarded to the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency "in the hope that they will be able to put them to rest once and for all."
The complaint was filed by a group of unnamed OSC employees, the Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Project on Government Oversight, and the gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign. "Scott Bloch as special counsel is like discovering that your fire chief is a closet arsonist," said PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is also suing Bloch in federal district court to obtain information about a "special consultant" job Bloch gave to his son's former Catholic boarding school headmaster and about other no-bid contracts. "This complaint asks Scott Bloch to do the bare minimum: step aside so that his own employees can exercise the same rights that other civil servants enjoy."
According to Thursday's complaint, a new policy instituted by Bloch resulted in the agency's closing more than 600 cases in only a few months, without any of them investigating whether the employees' allegations of government misconduct were true. Under the policy, the employees allege that career staff in the agency's disclosure unit are not permitted to contact whistle-blowers but are required to close their cases unless their written filings are sufficient on their face to establish a basis for investigation. "While publicly congratulating himself for reducing the caseload...Mr. Bloch has failed to explain just what happened to all of the cases he closed," said the complaint filed in Washington.
Agency spokeswoman Cathy Deeds said, "It's absolutely false that any directive was given that whistle-blowers should not be called." She said that in some circumstances, it was not necessary to call the whistle-blowers because they already provided sufficient information to process the case. Early this year Bloch reassigned a dozen employees from the agency's headquarters to offices around the country. According to the complaint, the reassignments were the result of friction between the employees and Bloch. Among those reassigned was the office's expert on the Hatch Act, the law that
restricts political activity by federal workers at all levels of government.
Bloch came under fire last year when he moved to deny federal workers protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and removed references to sexual orientation from the agency's Web site and complaint forms. The White House affirmed President Bush's support for protecting gay federal workers from discrimination after some Democratic lawmakers complained. In a letter to Bush, the employees' lawyer, Debra S. Katz, wrote: "Mr. Bloch ignored your express direction that federal agencies enforce" antidiscrimination laws against gays.
According to HRC, Michael Levine, an openly gay 32-year veteran of the Forest Service with "an unblemished record," filed a complaint in November 2003 alleging that a coworker was running a sporting goods business from the worksite, among numerous other blatant abuses. Levine's supervisor was implicated in the complaint. Subsequent to filing the complaint, Levine believes he came under fire for being a whistle-blower as well as for being gay.
Charges against Levine were filed by a personnel officer who, in reference to Levine, said, "Don't you just hate these fucking faggots," HRC said. The charges were signed off on by Levine's supervisors, who were implicated in Levine's complaint. Among the charges against Levine was a claim that he had child pornography on his computer. The computer was seized, but nothing improper was found on it. Levine was cleared.
Later, several other charges were levied against Levine, a 30-day suspension was proposed, and a 14-day suspension was ultimately imposed, HRC said. Because suspensions for fewer than 15 days are not directly appealable to the Merit Systems Protection Board, Levine had no choice but to turn to the Office of Special Counsel for help. Levine's complaint was closed in January without an investigation and despite a witness statement. "It appears that Mr. Levine, a longtime veteran of the federal service, was driven out of his job because he was a whistle-blower and because he was gay," said HRC spokesman Mark Shields.
Since last year's controversy, Bloch has doubled the number of political appointees at the agency and issued a gag order barring his employees from talking to the press or Congress about internal agency matters, the complaint alleged. (AP)