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Project on Government Oversight
 

 

 

 

FBI to Investigate Whistleblower Protection Agency New Complaint Charges Partisanship in Enforcement of Hatch Act

March 31, 2005 

 

Contact: Beth Daley, POGO (202) 347-1122
Debra S. Katz, Bernabei & Katz, PLLC  (202) 745-1942 (more contacts see below)

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.

Last fall, Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) alleged that Secretary Rice had been traveling to 'battleground' states around the country at government expense, making speeches in support of President Bush's re-election. According to the filing today, on or about October 21, 2004 , 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, within a day or two after receiving allegations of Hatch Act violations concerning John Kerry, Bloch directed career staff to conduct an immediate on-site investigation. The allegations focused on Senator Kerry's much-publicized visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center .

The filing today notes that "the favorable treatment afforded to the Rice complaint raises very troubling questions regardless of whether the allegations against Secretary Rice are ultimately substantiated."  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."

According to Debra S. Katz, an attorney for the Complainants, Bloch's politicization of Hatch Act enforcement is just the latest evidence that he is unfit to run OSC: "These allegations are particularly egregious given that Bloch is in violation of the very laws he has been appointed to enforce."  Indeed, last week in issuing a press release announcing that he had filed a complaint for disciplinary action against an SBA employee, Bloch stated: "Our federal system depends upon the public knowing that partisanship on the job is not permitted. No employee may use his or her federal office as a staging ground for partisan political activity." Ms. Katz added: "Scott Bloch should be held to the same standards as everyone else."

The amended complaint also alleges more staff retaliation, charging that after forcing out ten employees who refused an involuntary relocation order, Bloch offered to re-employ 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 complaint points out that Bloch has also provided paid time off for employees for the Christian holiday of Good Friday two years in a row, but has not provided a similar benefit for employees of other faiths. In fact, in 2004, Bloch scheduled a mandatory off-site retreat for the agency's senior managers during the first few days of Passover holiday.

More contacts:

Chas Offutt, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (202) 265-7337

Mark Shields, Human Rights Campaign (202) 216-1564

Tom Devine, Government Accountability Project, (202) 408-0034, x124

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See the amended complaint

Read the letter from Office of Special Counsel staff to Congress


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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