Washington, DC — The FBI will investigate allegations of corruption and cronyism at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, according to a Wall Street Journal article today. Two Senate Committees are also looking into the allegations and hearings have been promised. The allegations were made in a complaint filed in early March by employees at the agency and concerned nonprofits.
Today that group amended their complaint, charging that Scott Bloch, who runs the agency, has embarked on a campaign to politicize enforcement of the federal government’s Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel is a federal agency tasked with enforcing the Hatch Act, protecting government whistleblowers against retaliation and looking into personnel violations, among other responsibilities.
Among other things, the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on duty, using government funds to engage in political activity, running for partisan political office, or using their official authority to affect the results of an election. According to the filing today, Bloch deliberately delayed investigating alleged Hatch Act violations by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice prior to the 2004 election. In contrast, during the same period, allegations concerning a single visit to a federal facility by Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry were expedited.
Last fall, Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) alleged that Condoleezza Rice had been traveling to ‘battleground” states around the country at government expense, giving speeches in support of President Bush’s re-election. According to the filing today, Bloch assigned the Rice complaint to his political deputy rather than career investigators as had always been the practice in the handling of such cases. The deputy then deliberately sat on the Rice allegations for weeks without taking action, referring them for investigation only after the November election had already been held. By contrast, in August, Bloch directed career staff to conduct an immediate on-site investigation of Senator Kerry’s visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
According to the complaint, “the deliberate decision to sit on the allegations until after the election while expediting the investigation of the Kerry visit, flies in the face of the Hatch Act itself, which was designed precisely to prevent partisan politics from undermining the impartial conduct of official government business.”
The original complaint and today’s amendment were filed by a group of unnamed Office of Special Counsel employees, three national whistleblower protection organizations (Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Project on Government Oversight) and the country’s largest gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender equal rights organization (Human Rights Campaign). Attorney Debra Katz of the Washington, DC-based firm Bernabei and Katz is providing legal representation for the complainants.
The new complaint also cites more acts of retaliation by Bloch against OSC staff. The new complaint charges that after forcing out ten employees who refused an involuntary relocation order, Bloch offered to re-employ only the two staff members who did not hire an attorney or contest their reassignment. Moreover, Bloch, who is supposed to be the principal protector of federal whistleblower and merit system rights, threatened to take action against staff members in order to hasten their departure after they refused to waive their right to pursue their legal remedies.
The groups also released a letter sent by some of the agency’s staff to Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, in January. The letter contained a “plea for an outside, independent investigation of the Special Counsel’s abuse of the merit system” and was authored by employees who were not among the 12 employees Bloch attempted to force out or relocate to other cities in recent weeks. The letter states that Bloch’s actions have disrupted the agency’s work and driven experienced staff out the door.