Yesterday, the law firm of Katz, Marshall and Banks (KMB) upped its pressure on the government to immediately release the findings from an investigation into alleged misconduct at U.S. Office of Special Counsel – the federal agency charged with upholding the rights of federal whistleblowers – under former Special Counsel Scott Bloch's tenure. The investigation concluded nearly four years ago, but to date no information has been made publicly available.
In 2005 the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General (OPM IG) opened an investigation into alleged misconduct at the OSC. This investigation was prompted in part by an OSC complaint that GAP and other stakeholders filed to address a litany of abuses that allegedly took place at Bloch's directive. KMB, in a letter addressed yesterday to the Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), asserts:
This complaint was and is a matter of significant public concern, given its allegations of whistleblower retaliation by the agency charged with safeguarding the federal workforce against whistleblower retaliation; politically and religiously-based hiring for career positions; discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; refusal to enforce federal merit systems protection laws; dismissal of hundreds of OSC charges without investigation; placing unlawful "gag orders" on federal government staff; and deliberate interference with a federal IG investigation
Last year Bloch pleaded guilty to misdemeanor contempt of Congress, for withholding evidence during a Congressional investigation. After being sentenced to a one-month jail term, he withdrew his guilty plea and the case remains stalled in the courts. Concerned that OPM may use this delay as pretext to continue withholding its findings, KMB is urging CIGIE to compel OPM to release the results of its investigation.
Eager to put this chapter behind the OSC and the federal workforce intended to benefit from its services, KMB's letter continues,
A final report of investigation in the OSC complaint is urgent not only for our clients, but for the millions of federal employees for whom the Office of Special Counsel is the official protector against reprisal for raising issues of serious public concern. Until the results of OPM IG's investigation are released, federal employees cannot move beyond the extremely damaging conduct of Mr. Bloch's tenure and our clients who suffered significant economic damages and career-derailing retaliation remain uncompensated for the harm Mr. Bloch caused them.
This administration should be credited for the selection of Carolyn Lerner to revamp the OSC. Under Special Counsel Lerner's leadership, the OSC is using dormant tools to intervene on behalf of whistleblowers in unfounded reprisal actions – a stark contrast from her predecessor, Bloch, whose early departure was marked by his notoriety for stifling dissent from the very audience that was charged with protecting.
Notwithstanding this recent paradigm shift, new leadership does not obviate the need for transparency and accountability surrounding alleged cover-ups and gross abuse of authority during OSC's recent past.
OPM was tasked with conducting the investigation because it would have posed a direct conflict of interest for the OSC to investigate its own misconduct. However, OPM's investigation will be rendered moot if its findings continue to gather dust in a government office, not unlike the backlog of whistleblower disclosures of widespread public concern that accumulated dust under Bloch and were then abruptly closed – ironically, a component of OPM's investigation.
As GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, "For the public, there is no excuse for a secret investigation and report on illegality at the government's transparency agency. Even more basic for us as parties to the lawsuit, there is no excuse for a secret outcome when we acted on our rights. As parties to a lawsuit, we have a right to know the results."
GAP strongly supports KMB's request to Mr. Fong, Chair of the CIGIE, to compel OPM IG to promptly release the results of its investigation.
Shanna Devine is Legislative Campaign Coordinator for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.