Washington, DC —The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) abruptly reversed course and abandoned attempts to monitor an investigation into reports of reprisal against its own staff, according to an all-employee email released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The action yesterday came just hours after PEER issued a news release documenting how that investigation had ground to a halt due to obstruction by Scott Bloch, the probe’s target.
The email by James Byrne, the new Deputy Special Counsel, to all employees rescinded previous directives that when outside investigators from the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General (OIG) contact OSC staff members to set up interviews, the investigators must make the appointments through Bloch’s office. Byrne’s email states:
“This message cancels and replaces the September 29, 2006 and January 30, 2007 e-mails sent to all OSC employees by then Acting Deputy Special Counsel Rebecca McGinley.
The OIG will schedule interviews by directly contacting the employee with whom they wish to speak. The date, time, and place of the interviews will be arranged between the OIG and the employee. There is no longer a requirement to use OSC facilities for the interview…
OIG may also request you to identify, or provide copies of, documents that are associated with the questions that they address to you. You should furnish them copies of requested material that are in your possession unless disclosure of the information is prohibited by law, regulation or policy.”
The original whistleblower complaint against Bloch focuses on illegal gag orders, cronyism and retaliation in forcing the resignations of one-fifth of OSC headquarters legal and investigative staff. First filed in March 2005, the complaint was assigned by Clay Johnson, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and the Budget, to the OPM OIG in October 2005.
“It is a small relief that this glacial investigation can now proceed to a much overdue conclusion,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization joined with several current and former OSC employees and public interest groups in filing the original complaint. “If nothing else, this episode illustrates just how broken the Whistleblower Protection Act really is.”
Today, Representative Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government reform introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007 that would 1) significantly expand the scope of disclosures that federal civil servants can make; and 2) provide new procedural remedies to federal whistleblowers, including access to federal court.
“The tide may be finally turning for whistleblowers after a very long siege,” Ruch added, noting that the Office of Special Counsel is also scheduled for re-authorization during this session of Congress. “One remaining task for Congress is either fixing or abolishing the utterly dysfunctional Office of Special Counsel.”