Archive for Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Former area lawyer accused of not protecting whistle-blowers

November 8, 2005

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Federal officials are investigating allegations of widespread misconduct by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an agency led by former Lawrence lawyer Scott J. Bloch.

"We've likened Mr. Bloch's performance to the town arsonist being appointed fire chief," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, one of three federal employee-based organizations that filed a formal complaint against Bloch in March.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management last month notified some of the complainants that an investigation of Bloch's performance was under way.

The complainants' charges include allegations of cronyism, illegal gag orders, targeting gay employees for out-of-state transfers, and the office's getting involved in a dispute over creationism at the Smithsonian Institution.

Bloch's "office issued findings in the case even though it admitted it had no standing," Ruch said.

Bloch's office is responsible for ensuring the rights of federal employees and protecting whistle-blowers.

"We don't know of a single incident in which Mr. Bloch's office has gone to bat for a whistle-blower," Ruch said, noting that Bloch last year ordered an across-the-board dismissal of more than 1,000 whistle-blower complaints.

Some of these complaints, Ruch said, involved pre-Katrina reports of misconduct within the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bloch

Bloch

Cathy Deeds, a spokeswoman for the Office of Special Counsel, denied Ruch's allegation, noting the House Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce in May praised Bloch for reducing a long-standing backlog of cases.

In an e-mail to the Journal-World, Deeds cited a 14-page report in which Bloch claimed he had inherited a cumbersome system for processing complaints.

The new system, Bloch argued in the report, is considerably more efficient. The report did not explain why complaints were dismissed.

"Unfortunately, there are some outside interest groups and critics that are unhappy with OSC's management or legal policies," Deed wrote in her e-mail. "They have made baseless charges against the Special Counsel."

Joining Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in the complaint:

¢ Government Accountability Project, an association that promotes free speech for federal employees.

¢ Project on Government Oversight, an organization that investigates corruption within the federal government.

¢ An unnamed group of Office of Special Counsel employees.

¢ Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest civil-rights organization for homosexuals.

For several months, gay-rights advocates have criticized Bloch for refusing to investigate federal employees' discrimination complaints that involve sexual orientation.

Bloch has argued that while federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability and political affiliation, it does not apply to sexual orientation.

"Our job is to enforce the law. We have done so, including any claims of sexual orientation discrimination," Deeds wrote. "These (complaints) have been reviewed and investigated according to the law."

In an earlier interview with the Journal-World, Patrick Guerriero, president of Log Cabin Republicans, a national association representing the party's gay and lesbian members, called Bloch a "rogue official."

He accused Bloch of overturning "policies that have been in place since the Nixon administration."

Bloch graduated from Kansas University with a bachelor's degree in 1980 and a law degree in 1986. He practiced law at Stevens & Brand for 15 years before accepting a position with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001.

Comments

Jamesaust 9 years, 8 months ago

This gentleman's scandlous conduct has been exposed elsewhere: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/multipage/documents/04669647.asp

This is a guy who was asked specifically in his confirmation hearings about some of these issues, but would only supply vague, non-answers implying his sensitivity to these types of concerns. Nevertheless, the GOP controlled Senate confirmed him.

Within his firm month, he began to attack the weakest group - gay & lesbians. He ordered references to sexual orientation discrimination removed from the OSC website and began a "legal review" whether any protections existed for them. When word of this leaked out several weeks later, the White House quickly announced that sexual orientation was a protected characteristic: "Longstanding federal policy prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation. President Bush expects federal agencies to enforce this policy and to ensure that all federal employees are protected from unfair discrimination at work." Bloch announced the next day that the "review" was complete and - voila - gays & lesbians did actually have rights not to be discriminated against.

A lot of good that did. The OSC did not restore any references to sexual orientation to its website. Its new government "forms" did not include any "box" for such a complaint. Most importantly, Bloch not only has ordered all such complaints to be reviewed by a special committee outside the "normal" process but has failed to pursue any. When pressed to account for this, Bloch presented a strained reading of the law that, while admitting that discrimination based upon any sexual orientation from OUTSIDE the workplace would be covered, discrimination that originates AT work, was not covered.

When the OSC staff began to complain about this - and many other actions such as the whistle-blower concerns of this article - Bloch retaliated and a dozen staff found themselves exiled to distant OSC offices without any apparent rhyme or reason. When the employers, several of whom were senior career staff, refused to relocate, Bloch fired them.

This is of course a concern because it involves the waste and misdirection of public monies and priorities. Bloch has further displayed a shocking degree of cronyism. Virtually all persons hired by Bloch share his religion (Catholicism) but also the particular strain of it (right-wing). If you are Jewish and already an employee, you'd better be prepared to have mandatory meetings on Passover (yes, at Bloch's insistence), even though employees are sent home early on Good Friday. Bloch, I believe, briefly hired the headmaster of his son's private school for $112,000, which lasted only until he resigned following a scandal about a coverup of preditory priests, and who produced in his time a single, four page memo (for those not quick with math, that's $28,000 per page of your money).

avhjmlk 9 years, 8 months ago

Don't be so quick to associate Bloch with the standard Catholic. I don't think that his version of Catholicism meshes with mine...

avhjmlk 9 years, 8 months ago

Also, if his supposed involvement in a rift about Creationism at the Smithsonian Institute was related to his support of ceationism, that's more evidence that he's out of step with the Catholic Church, which is supportive of scientific discoveries about the origins of species and evolution.

Additionally, the Catholic Church has always been very supportive of the Jewish population, recognizing in its Sacramentary (the book the Priest reads from during Mass) during the Holy Week services the protected status of the original Chosen People.

Jamesaust 9 years, 8 months ago

Actually, you probably wouldn't recognize this as a version of Catholicism. Bloch is associated (to be fair by his connections) with far-right Catholic groups, particularly with a charismatic, authoritarian strand that equates liberalism with communism, some of whom (again, to be fair, Bloch doesn't seem to address openly the exact parameters of his personal belief) have run afoul with various Catholic bishops.

The law school in question that Bloch likes to hire from is Ave Maria University. In 1998, Thomas Monaghan, the founder and owner of Domino's Pizza, sold Domino's and used the proceeds in part to establish this University as an alternative to more traditional Catholic institutions. Monaghan is famous for his extreme, Catholicized views and, more importantly, generous funding. Faculty members include noted conservative legal scholar and controversial Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Bork. It finally gained accreditation this year, although Bloch has been hiring its graduates since he got to the OSC. Good luck getting a job with Bloch if you aren't an Ave Maria grad.

Monaghan is himself the member of a shadowy group called Legatus. Some critics claims that Legatus is the financial backbone of a "cult" called The Word of God that maintains quite a grip on its follows. To join, one must be the CEO of a group doing $4 million in annual sales (and be Catholic, of course). It claims to be nonpartisian but its associated guests include Phyllis Schlafy and Paul Weyrich (a founder of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority). (Tons of stuff on Monaghan on the web.)

Usually, criticism of Bloch and Monaghan, is responded to with a barrage of loud claims that the critics are engaged in anti-Catholic bigotry despite the Catholic faith of many of the critics.

In my personal opinion, Monaghan at least is a right-wind version of 'cafeteria Catholics' that have become associated more tightly with the GOP in the last half decade or so - lots of emphasis on Catholic teaching on abortion, about half the message on gays (God hates the sin ... eeeh...and maybe the sinner too), and flat out ignores or even disagrees with about everything the Church teaches about opposing the death penalty, or war, or social justice. He's free, of course, to do this to his heart's content, but its clear from the series of controversies surrounding him (again, plenty on the internet) that he lacks good faith neutrality in applying the law as part of his job.

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