Nearly a decade after the infamous tenure of then-Special Counsel Scott Bloch, we finally have a public record validating the concerns the Project On Government Oversight and others had been raising since 2005. The Office of Special Counsel announced today the release of an Office of Personnel Management Inspector General report on the matter. IG Patrick McFarland had been asked by then-Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Clay Johnson to conduct the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest. In his transmittal letter, McFarland concluded that, among other outrageous prohibited personnel practices, Bloch “wanted to ‘ship out’” (p. 3 Transmittal Letter) OSC’s gay employees, and actually manufactured the need for a Detroit field office, reassigning several gay employees to that outpost. The report states, “…OSC management cannot demonstrate…that the reassignments were taken for a legitimate business purpose of the agency.” (p. 34 of the report)
The report also substantiated allegations of religious discrimination: Bloch gave employees paid time off for Good Friday but scheduled a mandatory off-site retreat during Passover. The report noted that emails between Bloch and senior staff he appointed “expressed negative perceptions of persons whose beliefs and actions did not conform to their religiously-derived standards.” (p. 15 of the report)
This report does not address the criminal charges against Bloch, which included criminal contempt of Congress for lying about his efforts to destroy evidence on his office computer by calling in Geeks on Call to conduct a “six-level” wipe. Bloch pleaded guilty of depredation of government property and was sentenced to probation and one day in jail.
As POGO’s late Director of Investigations Beth Daley wrote about Bloch in 2006, “Since being appointed head of the agency, he ‘cleaned house’ of career employees whose ‘loyalty’ he doubted, inappropriately steered contracts to friends and cronies, interfered with politically-sensitive investigations, closed hundreds of whistleblower files summarily without investigation, and unilaterally re-interpreted his responsibilities so that they better fit his personal views. Along the way, he publicly made disparaging remarks about ‘leakers,’ even though it is his job to protect the federal government’s whistleblowers. As a result, Bloch has been a lightning rod for the news media, Republicans and Democrats in the Congress, whistleblower attorneys, and good government groups.”
In response to the issuance of the OPM IG’s report, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said, “The rights of federal workers should never be subject to the prejudices of political appointees,” “This was a case study of how bad things can get when an inappropriate person is given the responsibility of heading up a federal agency. This record serves as a warning of what should never happen again. The OPM IG should be commended for conducting this review. That said, it should not have taken a full decade for the truth to be known.”
In 2005, POGO, along with the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), wrote to then-Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman urging them to hold hearings and investigate Bloch for his efforts “that threaten to undermine the United States Office of Special Counsel’s vital mission.” POGO, GAP, and PEER joined several anonymous career OSC employees who were represented by Debra Katz, a partner with Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, in a complaint filed against Bloch in 2005. Under new leadership, the OSC has settled the complaint brought by the former OSC employees.