After a delay of seven months, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has begun investigating allegations of retaliation and misconduct by Special Counsel Scott Bloch, the Bush-appointed head of Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Notice of the investigation was revealed last week in documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a government oversight group. At the request of Clay Johnson, Deputy Director of the Presidentâ€™s Office of Management and Budget, OPMâ€™s Inspector General Patrick McFarland will head the probe.
The OSC is charged with enforcing the federal governmentâ€™s non-discrimination employment and hiring policies, and protecting whistle blowers and employees from harassment. In order to maintain its independence, the Directorâ€™s position is a five-year appointment not subject to recall.
In March, a complaint lodged by former Bloch subordinates, the Human Rights Campaign, and several government watchdog groups, including PEER, claimed that Bloch had forced the resignations of several OSC staff members, including two openly gay employees, who disagreed with his management of the agency by giving them 10 days to accept involuntary transfers to the OSCâ€™s newly opened Detroit office. His actions reportedly forced the resignation of one-fifth of the OSCâ€™s staff and investigative personnel. The complaint was filed with the Presidentâ€™s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, an umbrella group of inspectors general and government oversight agencies empowered to review complaints made against member agencies.
The complaint also stated Bloch engaged in cronyism, imposed an illegal gag order on OSC employees, and issued blanket dismissals of discrimination complaints simply to relieve the agencyâ€™s chronic backlog.
The charges stem from an incident early in 2004 when Bloch quietly deleted from the OSCâ€™s website and training materials the words â€śsexual orientationâ€ť as a group protected under OSCâ€™s purview. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 prohibits federal workforce discrimination based on â€śconduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee.â€ť Past OSC policy has always interpreted this as protecting gay and lesbian federal workers. The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal governmentâ€™s employee policies also prohibits sexual orientation discrimination.
Bloch indicated that he believed federal law did not protect gays and lesbians simply because of their sexual orientation, but only in the cases in which they were discriminated against for actions outside of work.
Congressional uproar over Blochâ€™s decision, led by openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, (D-MA), grew so intense that President Bush was forced to publicly declare he would not tolerate sexual orientation discrimination in the federal workforce.
Legislation is now pending in the House that would explicitly ban discrimination in the federal government based on a personâ€™s sexual orientation. The measure passed the House Government Reform committee with a bi-partisan majority last month.
According to Executive Director of PEER, Jeff Ruch, because of Blochâ€™s mismanagement and the flight of experienced staff, the OSC is now in chaos.
Bloch has yet to provide official notification of his efforts as OSC head. As a matter of fact he still has not provided Con-gress with his 2004 annual report. We have no idea what he has done.â€ť
Ruch also described an agency willing to act outside its jurisdiction when moved. The OSC recently issued a report critical of the Smithsonian for allegedly discriminating against a research fellow, Richard Sternberg, who published an article supporting intelligent design, despite the fact that the researcher was not a government employee and not protected by the OSC. â€śHe wonâ€™t defend whistle blowers but he will charge in defense of right wing ideology,â€ť Ruch said. â€śBloch is just another in the growing line of unqualified Bush appointees who manage to make huge messes after just months in office,â€ť Ruch added. The OSCâ€™s Deputy Director, James Renne, has also announced his resignation.
The pending investigation has also not satisfied the complaining employees. OPMâ€™s letter did not indicate the scope of the investigation, what acts during what time period are to be reviewed, when the results were expected.
Debra Katz, attorney for the employees, in a letter addressed to the OPM, and also obtained by PEER, wrote, â€ś[a]s you might imagine, the passage of over seven months with no word from Mr. Johnson or any other responsible official concerning the serious allegations against Mr. Bloch, has been extremely demoralizing to my clients and to the OSC staff as a whole.â€ť
Ruch concurred. â€śThe disturbingly long period of inaction on this complaint reinforces the notion that the Presidentâ€™s Council on Integrity and Efficiency actually undercuts its avowed mission of effective oversight,â€ť he said. Neither the OSC or OPM could be reached for comment.