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GAP's Dylan Blaylock delivers the memo (note: OSC seal inserted)Last Thursday, GAP, along with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) issued a memo to the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on the functionality of its website in regards to whistleblower protection information. The whistleblower community is well familiar with OSC, as it is the independent federal agency charged with protecting federal whistleblowers, investigating their disclosures, and reporting its finding to Congress and the President.
The whistleblower community is also well familiar with the fact that the OSC website is in dreadful shape. GAP and POGO were invited to write this memo by OSC, and (again) it's important to note that our critiques focus on the website's functionality and does not address any issues with content (that discussion will probably happen a little further down the road).
The OSC website should be a key resource for all potential and current federal whistleblowers, and should promote and demonstrate transparency, openness, and accountability. Further, it must be dynamic, easily navigable, straightforward, well-organized and aesthetically helpful in directing people to information quickly. But it falls short in many of these areas.
Recurring themes of functionality issues included out-of-date information, difficult navigation, an absence of document organization and transparency, and a lack of social media presence.
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In a move that illustrates what the whistleblower community can expect from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) under the newly-appointed Carolyn Lerner administration, the OSC announced earlier today that it has obtained an order from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) that stays the firing of a federal whistleblower.
This is the first sign that, as expected and hoped for, the OSC has an administration in place that will fight for the rights of those federal employees who expose waste, fraud and abuse. This is quite the contrast from the last administration – that of Scott Bloch, who was heavily criticized by whistleblower and "good government" groups (including GAP) for persecuting whistleblowers in his own office (the OSC), and as the norm, failing to protect those federal whistleblowers who desperately needed his help (Bloch has been sentenced to one month in prison for withholding information from Congress).
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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today praised Senate action last night to confirm the nomination of Carolyn Lerner as Special Counsel at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the office charged with investigating federal whistleblower disclosures, protecting them from retaliation, and defending the merit system.
“This is an outstanding appointment, and we hope that Ms. Lerner will be worth the wait,” stated GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “To date, her career has personified excellence -- as a litigator, mediator and manager of government reform programs. Lerner has earned widespread respect among good government activists for a lifelong commitment to employee rights."
Lerner's task is seen as a difficult one, as OSC has been without a leader for over 18 months, following the resignation of Scott Bloch. Last month, Bloch was sentenced to one month of jail time for withholding information from Congress. During his tenure, Bloch issued gag orders and engaged in harsh retaliation against whistleblowers on his own staff, abandoning the agency’s mission to protect whistleblowers.
Devine added that credit should be given to the Oval Office, stating “It is no coincidence that this appointee could be the strongest Special Counsel since the office’s creation in 1978. President Obama now has completed appointments to the strongest, most qualified team in history to protect government and corporate whistleblowers. Now all these leaders need is a credible open government law to enforce. That would be done already, except for a 'secret hold' placed by a senator at the request of House Republican leadership last December on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). It is time for congressional Republicans to put their priorities and votes where their rhetoric is. Their war on waste will be false advertising unless they quickly act to pass the WPEA."
Tom Devine is Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.
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Earlier this afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Robinson sentenced disgraced former U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch to one month’s imprisonment for lying to federal investigators. Bloch’s lawyers, however, pled for house arrest or halfway-house “community confinement” as an alternative to imprisonment, and the judge is accepting another round of briefs.
Quote me on this: "Bloch’s desperate attempts to avoid accountability are becoming pathetic. He continues to disgrace the Office of Special Counsel, even after resigning in disgrace."
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), established to defend whistleblowers and political threats to the civil service merit system, has been leaderless for nearly 18 months, since Bloch resigned after being indicted for making false statements to FBI investigators probing corruption at his office. During his four years at the OSC, Bloch turned the agency into a caricature of its mission. He issued gag orders and engaged in harsh retaliation against whistleblowers on his own staff, abandoned the agency’s mission to protect whistleblowers, and challenged former House Government Reform Committee Chair Tom Davis (R.-Va.) to settle matters with a physical fight outside when challenged at congressional oversight hearings.
Taxpayers and whistleblowers should be grateful to a judge who is defending the rule of law.
Tom Devine is Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.
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This morning, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a confirmation hearing on nominee Carolyn Lerner to lead the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The agency, established to defend whistleblowers and political threats to the civil service merit system, has been leaderless for nearly two years, since disgraced former Special Counsel Scott Bloch resigned after being indicted for making false statements to FBI investigators probing corruption at his office.
“This is an outstanding nomination, and we hope that Ms. Lerner will be worth the wait,” stated GAP legal director Tom Devine. “To date her career has personified excellence -- whether as a litigator, mediator or manager of government reform programs.”
The selection of Ms. Lerner to fill the vacancy looks to represent a substantial departure from OSC’s days of lawlessness and hostility to whistleblowers. Lerner has earned widespread respect among good government activists for a lifelong commitment to employee rights. But she also has represented management clients and assumed management responsibilities in the public and private sector.
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Remember former U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch? Appointed under the Bush administration to head the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which investigates federal whistleblower disclosures, Bloch quickly gained notoriety as a threat to the merit system and his own employees. Bloch was put under investigation in 2007, following a litany of allegations that he was pursuing personal political agendas over his mandate to protect whistleblowers. A quick and dirty attempt to wipe his own hands clean has landed him a month's worth of jail time, unless his own prosecutors give him a 'get out of jail free' card.
Last April, Bloch pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of Congress for withholding information from Congressional investigators. In 2006, he hired Geeks on Call to scrub his government-issued computer of evidence that he violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. After Bloch withheld details from the House Oversight Committee of this evidential purging, a federal judge sentenced Bloch to a mandatory one-month minimum jail term.
Red flags went off in the whistleblower community earlier this month when Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Leon filed a motion for reconsideration to reduce Bloch’s jail term to probation. Bloch’s lawyers eagerly joined the motion. Apparently, Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson’s ruling threatened the plea deal that Bloch and his prosecutors arranged.
The new Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) was off to a flying start in the first year of Obama administration appointees. Thanks to Chair Susan Grundmann’s leadership, the Board made more progress toward protecting the merit system than in any other year since it was created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. It established an unprecedented infrastructure of research, transparency, and public enfranchisement. It issued landmark precedents that restored its authority to enforce the merit system. It reversed a decade long trend of ruling against whistleblowers. In 2010 for merits decisions by the full Board, there were more whistleblower victories (four) than in the previous decade (three). That is four times the total of one Board whistleblower victory during the entire term of previous Chair Neil McPhie.
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Unfortunately, for whistleblowers, the Administrative Judges (AJ’s) who conduct hearings and issue initial decisions do not seem to be listening yet. In November and December 2010, AJ’s ruled against whistleblowers in 31 of 33 decisions. For the year their record was 12-187, with whistleblowers on the short end. They continue routinely to rubberstamp agency reprisals through expansive readings of Federal Circuit loopholes that have gutted the Whistleblower Protection Act. Setting the pace for bias was AJ Elizabeth Bogle of the Washington Field Office, who ruled against the whistleblower defense in 23 decisions out of 23 cases. The Board is doing what it can through rulings. In 2010 it remanded, or sent back, 11 cases for a hearing that AJ’s had dismissed. But it is clear that until Congress overhauls the statute, the Board’s leadership will be insufficient to reverse deeply ingrained administrative law patterns hostile to whistleblowers.