Washington, DC — The top official charged with fostering federal merit-based hiring principles is packing his agency with cronies, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Governmental Accountability Project. Continuing with his pattern of relying on non-competitive hiring to fill career civil service jobs with favored candidates, U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch is now creating and then filling career slots with political appointees and other pre-selected applicants, a practice called “burrowing in” which tends to escalate as a presidency nears its conclusion.
In the latest maneuver, on July 11, 2007, Bloch advertised a new Deputy Director for Planning and Analysis position carrying a $154,600 maximum salary. This new Senior Executive Service (SES) slot will be charged with carrying out “new program initiatives envisioned by the Special Counsel” and refining “strategic and long-range plans.” The job is open to any U.S. citizen who can pass a background check and is willing to undertake “occasional travel…by various modes of transportation.”
While such coveted career SES positions are supposed to be filled competitively, the short, barely two-week application period (closing July 27th) is the classic sign of a pre-selected search. Bloch’s term is set to expire in December 2008, hardly time to implement major new programs. Moreover, in his July 12th testimony before a House subcommittee seeking re-authorization for the Office of Special Counsel, Bloch did not mention a single new strategic initiative or that he was seeking a new deputy director.
In addition, the duties that this new deputy is supposed to perform appear redundant with the duties of another career SES employee, who serves as “Associate Special Counsel for Legal Counsel and Policy” and is tasked with “performance of an array of policy, planning, communications, and other functions.”
“This is obviously a BS job with a big enough salary to hire two attorneys or investigators to work on whistleblower cases, which is what that office is supposed to be doing,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is suing Bloch to force release of documents about his selection of no-bid consultants, including his son’s former boarding school headmaster. “Scott Bloch is like a watch dog with distemper, endangering what he is sworn to protect.”
For a small agency of approximately 110 employees, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has a relatively high number of slots that can be filed on a non-competitive basis. In the past year, however, Bloch also transformed his previously non-competitive Deputy Special Counsel position into a civil service slot in order to persuade a pre-selected candidate to accept the position. In addition, he converted at least one political assistant into a career position, enabling her to burrow in.
A series of previous Bloch moves, including a purge of existing career staff and their replacement with cronies and new hires from conservative law schools, gag orders and retaliation against internal whistleblowers, is presently the subject of an investigation commissioned by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency. Due to that case and a string of other missteps, Bloch is now facing a rising bi-partisan chorus of calls for his resignation. By law, the Special Counsel is appointed for a five-year term and may only be removed by the president for cause.
“Given his responsibilities to enforce laws prohibiting political misuse of the merit system, such as his recent investigation into political briefings at the General Services Administration, Mr. Bloch has an extra duty not to bloat his staff with patronage or buddy system hires,” added Government Accountability Project Legal Director Tom Devine.