Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

  Fox takes charge of Hen-house inquiry

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usQuite a stir on line today about the report in the LA Times that the Office of Special Counsel has started an investigation of Karl Rove's politicization of his office, the firing of at least one US Attorney, the abuse of RNC email accounts, and the transformation of several Cabinet-level Agencies into branches of the RNC during 2006.

So, unmitigated good news for all those who care about government integrity, openess, and the rights of federal employees--except for one troubling little detail. The head of OSC, Scott Bloch, is a notoriously partisan hack who should have been fired years ago.

Odd that the Times' reporter, Tom Hamburger, couldn't find any space whatever in his story to convey information about Bloch's background and thus the likely nature of the "investigation" into Rove's activities. Instead, he approaches the matter with an astounding lack of critical insight.

Here is Hamburger:

[T]he Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

First, the inquiry comes from inside the administration, not from Democrats in Congress...

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

Bloch declined to comment on who his investigators would interview, but he said the probe would be independent and uncoordinated with any other agency or government entity...

"This is a big deal," Paul C. Light, a New York University expert on the executive branch, said of Bloch's plan. "It is a significant moment for the administration and Karl Rove...

The growing controversy [about the firing of US Attorneys] inspired him to act, Bloch said.

"We are acting with dispatch and trying to deal with this because people are concerned about it … and it is not a subject that should be left to endless speculation," he said.


"Trying to deal with this"? Putting an end to "speculation"? This sounds more like the language of a coverup, than the words of a crusading investigator leaving no stone unturned.

However it doesn't seem to have occured to Hamburger that Karl Rove might have chosen to be "investigated" by Bloch's OSC, perhaps to blunt Congressional investigations, perhaps to provide the Bush administration with cover while OSC drags its feet. Instead, Hamburger takes the announcement by Bloch at face value.

Here are some of the well-documented aspects of Scott Bloch's tenure at OSC that Hamburger might have taken the trouble to inform his readers about. From The Nation:

It's been an inauspicious start for Scott Bloch, head of the government's Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency charged with protecting federal whistleblowers. After moving from the Justice Department's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in January 2004, Bloch suggested that federal employees could essentially be fired for being gay. Then, directly contradicting his organization's purpose, Bloch complained of "leakers" within the OSC and issued a gag order for employees. In a speech last fall Bloch admitted he knew little about the Counsel's work before Bush nominated him. Now he's pushing forward a controversial agency "reorganization" plan that watchdogs liken to a purge.


Bloch is so hostile to gays that as soon as he took over at OSC, the agency in charge of guaranteeing the fair treatment of federal employees, he tried to reverse the longstanding policy of non-discrimination against gays. From Stephen Barr:

A newly arrived Republican appointee has pulled references to sexual orientation discrimination off an agency Internet site where government employees can learn about their rights in the workplace.

The Web pages at the Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency whose mission is to protect whistleblowers and other federal employees from retribution, has removed references to sexual orientation from a discrimination complaint form, training slides, a brochure titled "Your Rights as a Federal Employee" and other documents.


This transcript of a Congressional news conference about Scott Bloch's discriminatory actions makes interesting reading as well. Eventually Bloch was forced by Democrats in Congress to reverse course, but not until he had dragged his heels for a full half year and tried to clamp down on those who were blowing the whistle against him (irony of ironies).

But then Bloch has never demonstrated any real affinity for the agency he leads. He had virtually no relevant training or background before taking over OSC, aside that is from his hard-line conservative views on the role of religion in public life and his contempt for gays.

Bloch ... recently admitted during a speech at his alma mater, the University of Kansas, he really didn't know much about the job when he was nominated.


After his first attempt to undermine the goals of OSC failed, Bloch charged ahead with further schemes. In particular, he devised this doozy. He proposed to transfer many of the top staffers at OSC headquarters in DC to regional offices around the country, and any who refused to be sent into forced exile he fired. In January 2005, a joint letter from POGO, PEER, and GAP to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs asked for an investigation of Bloch's activities:

In light of Mr. Bloch’s most recent actions, described in detail below, we strongly urge that you conduct oversight hearings and order an independent investigation of Mr. Bloch’s illegal personnel practices and the culture of fear he has created at OSC. We also believe Congress should consider whether continued efforts to amend the Whistleblower Protection Act should be modified to compensate for the weak link that the OSC has become under Mr. Bloch’s anti-leadership. For all practical purposes, his office is the only remedy available for emergency interim relief, or any at all against common forms of harassment. For now, whistleblowers or others who need and deserve that support have nowhere to go...

Mr. Bloch advised the affected employees that they must to report to their new assignments within 60 days. He has advised them that they will be fired if they do not indicate their willingness to relocate within ten days.

In a January 7th press release filled with misleading statements, which Mr. Bloch issued as the media and others began making inquiries, he asserted that the new Detroit field office was created “after extensive discussions with staff and an outside assessment team’s review of the Agency’s structure.” In reality, however, none of the affected staff, including the affected senior executives, was notified in advance, let alone a party to “discussions” about the move...

There are still more reasons to question the bona fides of the management justification offered for this “reorganization.” Under the new structure, assuming that they accept the forced geographic reassignments to Detroit and Oakland, the two career senior executives with the most litigation experience will be reporting to the career senior executive at headquarters with the least litigation experience. OSC’s Hatch Act Unit will, for the first time in OSC’s history, report directly to a political deputy. Further, OSC’s highly successful ADR program will inexplicably be run out of Detroit.

In fact, the way that the “reorganization” is being implemented leads to the inescapable conclusion that existing career staff are being purged...

Equally, if not more disturbing, there is every reason to believe that the employees directly affected by the “reorganization” have been deliberately targeted to make way for Mr. Bloch’s own hand-picks. Virtually all of the employees affected are individuals who either work under, or have themselves dared to engage in even mild private discussions with Mr. Bloch over the advisability of management and policy decisions he has made over the last twelve months...

As you may be aware, despite the fact that he has been in his position for only slightly over a year, Mr. Bloch has already received some very unfavorable attention (as well as a public rebuke by the White House) for suggesting that federal employees are not protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and for issuing a gag order to OSC staff, directing them not to speak to anyone outside of the agency about agency policies. In the wake of these incidents, Mr. Bloch (whose job it is to protect whistleblowers) has been publicly quoted as deriding what he calls “leakers” at OSC. Even before this latest purge, OSC staff, whose morale is now at an all-time low, were living in a culture of fear.

Thus, Mr. Bloch is widely perceived by his staff as a dictatorial figure that considers any dissent (even when expressed internally) to be an act of “disloyalty.”


That information does not exactly bode well for any investigation of wrongdoing by Karl Rove and the DoJ in the firing of US Attorneys. Let's tote up the allegations in the letter to the Senate: Bloch is vindictive, manipulative, reckless toward enforcement of the Hatch Act, determined to sideline career workers in order to bring in partisan loyalists. Oh, yes, he's also unscrupulous and dishonest.

In short, Bloch has certain personal qualities that might be thought to disqualify him from leading such a sensitive investigation.

There's more about his 'purge' of OSC in this press release from POGO. In March of 2005, POGO issued a report on the complaint filed against Bloch by OSC employees and others regarding a "litany" of complaints.

Through a stinging complaint filed today, employees at the Office of Special Counsel are attempting to spark an independent investigation into a series of actions taken by Scott Bloch, the Bush-appointed Special Counsel who is supposed to be the principal protector of federal whistleblower and merit system rights. By law, Bloch’s office is supposed to review such complaints of illegal transfers and removals but the complaint asks that he recuse himself and refer it to an outside body.

The complaint filed by a group of unnamed OSC employees, three national whistleblower protection organizations (the Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Project on Government Oversight) and the country’s largest gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender equal rights organization (the Human Rights Campaign) outlines a litany of illegal gag orders, cronyism, invidious discrimination, and retaliation. In addition, the complaint seeks to stop an unfolding purge of OSC headquarters staff, in which a number of attorneys and investigators have been ordered to resign for refusing to accept involuntary transfers to Detroit or Dallas .

“Scott Bloch as Special Counsel is like discovering that your fire chief is a closet arsonist,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is suing Bloch in federal district court to obtain information about the “special consultant” job Bloch gave to his son’s former Catholic boarding school headmaster and about other no-bid contracts. “This complaint asks Scott Bloch to do the bare minimum – step aside so that his own employees can exercise the same rights that other civil servants enjoy.”


Later that month, POGO also reported that the FBI had begun investigating Bloch's actions at OSC, particularly allegations that his enforcement of the Hatch Act had followed partisan lines.

The FBI will investigate allegations of malfeasance and cronyism at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), 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 to charge that Special Counsel Scott Bloch, who runs the federal agency, has embarked on a campaign to politicize enforcement of the government’s Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. The OSC is tasked with enforcing the Hatch Act, protecting government whistleblowers against retaliation and looking into personnel violations, among other responsibilities.

According to today’s filing, Bloch and his political cronies 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 visit to a federal facility by Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry were expedited...

According to the complaint, “the deliberate decision to sit on the allegations until after the election while expediting the investigation of the Kerry matter, 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.”


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNow, this is pretty darned relevant to Hamburger's report, isn't it? And it's not as if any of this was unknown to the coporate media. Here is a the WaPo from May 25, 2005 on some the controversies swirling around Scott Bloch.

Nor did Bloch mend his ways thereafter. In July 2005 Reps. Frank and Conyers asked the GAO to investigate his activities at OSC. In October, the Inspector General in the Office of Personnel Management opened an investigation of Bloch. And as recently as February 2007 the WaPo carried a major story on the OPM investigation of Bloch.

A trouble-plagued whistle-blower investigation at the Office of Special Counsel -- whose duties include shielding federal whistle-blowers -- hit another snag this week when employees accused the special counsel of intimidation in the probe.

The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has been investigating allegations by current and former OSC employees that Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch retaliated against underlings who disagreed with his policies -- by, among other means, transferring them out of state -- and tossed out legitimate whistle-blower cases to reduce the office backlog. Bloch denies the accusations, saying that under his leadership the agency has grown more efficient and receptive to whistle-blowers...

The 16-month investigation has been beset by delays, accusations and counter-accusations. The latest problem began two weeks ago, when Bloch's deputy sent staffers a memo asking them to inform OSC higher-ups when investigators contact them. Further, the memo read, employees should meet with investigators in the office, in a special conference room. Some employees cried foul, saying the recommendations made them afraid to be interviewed in the probe...

The OSC's memo, the group [PEER, POGO, and GAP] said, "was only the latest in a series of actions by Bloch to obstruct" the investigation. "Other actions have included suggestions that all witnesses interviewed . . . provide Bloch with affidavits describing what they had been asked and how they responded."


The notoriety of Scott Bloch has been so great for so long that it's frankly astounding to find Tom Hamburger ignoring the fact in his LA Times article about the "investigation" of Karl Rove. Evidently, POGO thinks so as well.

In another example of the coziness of Washington politics, it turns out the same government official who is reported to be undertaking a wide-ranging investigation into the White House is himself the subject of an investigation commissioned by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Articles published in the April 24, 2007 editions of The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times report that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, headed by Scott Bloch, will investigate whether the White House violated the Hatch Act when it held politically-oriented briefings at the General Services Administration and whether the firing of a U.S. Attorney was politically motivated.

Yet, Mr. Bloch himself is under an investigation ordered by OMB Deputy Director Clay Johnson into allegations of cronyism, whistleblower retaliation, among others. This fact appears to present a conflict of interest that compromises Bloch’s ability to do the “fair, effective and thorough” job he says he will do.

“It’s hard to believe that the Office of Special Counsel will be able to conduct a thorough investigation into the White House while Scott Bloch is under investigation himself,” said Project On Government Oversight’s director of investigations Beth Daley. “You have to wonder if the people’s interest will outweigh one person’s desire to protect his own skin.”


It's hard to reach any other conclusion. So how did Tom Hamburger neglect entirely to mention Mr. Bloch's checkered history?

This is not an idle question, for I see that Associated Press report by Deb Riechmann and the Post's own article by Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr. also manage to avoid mentioning anything whatever about Bloch's troubled background, much less his record of gross partisanship.

Just another day in the Hen-house.

crossposted from Unbossed

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