Washington special interest groups -- notorious for their anti-religious hostility toward conservatives -- are conducting a coordinated smear campaign against Scott Bloch, George Bush's appointee to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which reviews and refers whistleblower disclosures to agency heads. In an interview with TAS, Pete Leon, legislative director for Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who has called for Bloch's resignation, revealed the fundamental anti-religious bigotry at the heart of the campaign. Articulating his objections to Bloch, Leon said, "He is a devout Catholic," then quickly added, after he realized his gaffe, the famously insincere line from Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Yes, there is something wrong with having a devout Catholic in this government office, according to the groups attacking Bloch. Look behind the rhetoric against Bloch and it becomes apparent that these groups do not consider a believing Catholic a worthy head of an office that they had used as a battering ram for liberal causes under Bill Clinton. Sworn in as United States Special Counsel in January 2004, Scott Bloch has angered these entrenched interest groups not because he hasn't been doing his job but because he has been doing it too well.
Entering the job he faced a backlog of over a thousand cases. Whistleblower disclosures and prohibited personnel practice complaints, as old as three years, gathered dust in the federal bureaucracy while legitimate problems went unchecked. In 15 months, Bloch, displaying a healthy contempt for a D.C. ethos of business-as-usual bureaucracy, nearly eliminated that backlog, and has undone some of the damage that spread under Clinton's appointee.
Charged by the President with reforming the OSC, Bloch aimed to process the case backlog in a year and his staff produced. "I made it clear we wouldn't allow claims to languish any longer," Bloch said Tuesday. In 2004, the overall case backlog was reduced by 82 percent, from 1,121 to 201 cases, according to the OSC. Of those, the whistleblower disclosure backlog was reduced from 674 to 82 cases and prohibited personnel practices (PPP) from 447 to 119.
For this, Bloch's detractors charge him with allowing discrimination against homosexuals, improper hiring practices, an office "purge," and a disregard for the cases brought before his office. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), has called him "a maniac overseeing the asylum."
THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA, helping PEER attack Bloch through a steady stream of credulous stories, fails to note PEER's regular campaigns against religion and the religious in government. A whole section of PEER's webpage derides the National Parks under President Bush as "Faith-Based Parks." PEER board member Frank Buono sued in 2003 for the removal of a cross in Mojave National Preserve that he found "offensive." PEER has protested the Grand Canyon National Park bookstore for carrying a book that suggests God created the earth.
The campaign to bork Bloch -- PEER has worked with Ralph Neas at People for the American Way, which savaged Robert Bork in 1987 -- began when Bloch shook up the bureaucracy, reorganizing his office this January after a yearlong review. Bloch reassigned 12 career employees, including seven to a new Detroit field office. The career employees were not given a choice, which is a common and legal federal practice.
Federal unions quickly complained to Congress about Bloch, as did whistleblower groups such as PEER, accusing him of retaliation and discrimination. House Democrats wrote Bloch in late January, questioning the transfers and other hiring. Homosexual activists also targeted Bloch. The Washington Blade reported that two of the reassigned employees are gay and claim to be victims of discrimination.
Bloch says these transferred employees hadn't expressed any disagreement, and he was unaware that any of the employees were homosexual.
What really upsets the homosexual activist groups is not that these two employees were reassigned but that Bloch ended the propagandistic use of the OSC's website by Bill Clinton's openly lesbian appointee Elaine Kaplan. When Bloch took office, parts of the OSC website cited sexual orientation as a protected status. Bloch discovered that executive orders by President Clinton had improperly extended OSC's jurisdiction over sexual orientation discrimination claims. Bloch concluded that the law, 5 U.S.C. § 2302 (b)(10), prohibits discrimination on the basis of conduct that does not adversely affect job performance, and that orientation is not included as a class status in case law, legislative history, or the plain meaning of the law.
The Human Rights Campaign, homosexual newspapers, Congressmen Barney Frank, Engel, and others protested the move. Engel called for Bloch's resignation last October. The congressmen, joined by three others in the House, requested clarification from Bloch on the matter as late as last month.
Grabbing for any available stick, the special interest groups are now accusing Bloch of dismissing the backlog of frivolous complaints without adequate review. PEER's Ruch has repeatedly claimed that Bloch "appears to have taken action in very few... of these cases and has yet to represent a single whistleblower in an employment case." This is false. Under Bloch, according to official records, OSC increased legitimate referrals to agency heads from 14 in 2003 to 26 in 2004. Also, OSC referred 22 percent more PPPs for internal investigation during the backlog period.
"We're finding more wheat in the chaff," Bloch said. Further, according to OSC, about 500 backlogged cases were low priority and already slated for closure by Bloch's predecessor.
Bloch pointed to several cases in which OSC has referred disclosures. Among them were disclosures involving air traffic control problems, danger posed to nuclear facilities, engines wrongly mounted on Air Force transport planes, and uncertified work on Navy ships. In February, OSC announced that it protected a TSA employee who was fired after blowing the whistle on a supervisor who had brought his assault rifle into the airport.
PRESSED FOR EVIDENCE of Bloch's malfeasance, Ruch offers little save suspicion. "We don't know at the end of the day how many whistleblowers have been helped," Ruch said. "A lot of this controversy would end if they came up with a couple examples."
Then Ruch got to the nub of his complaints, saying that Bloch is "trying to make the office into a center of like-minded movement conservatives." Even if this were true, is that a crime? Does Ruch expect Bush's appointee to hire people who will thwart him?
PEER repeatedly cites as an example of Bloch's "cronyism" his temporary hire of Alan Hicks. According to OSC spokeswoman Cathy Deeds, Hicks, the former headmaster of Bloch's son's school, was hired as a trusted advisor with management and other experience. A temporary hire paid less than $7,000 for 120 hours of work, Hicks assisted Bloch with the agency review. Under 5 U.S.C. § 3109, intermittent experts or consultants are not required to be hired competitively.
By "cronies," PEER means Catholics. PEER's problem with Bloch is not that he has hired people he knows, but that he has hired Catholics he knows. Last Monday, PEER's press release made sure to mention that Hicks oversaw a Catholic boarding school. Its Nov. 17, 2004 press release smeared Hicks by suggesting he was complicit in the Scranton, Pennsylvania, diocese's sexual abuse scandal. He had nothing to do with it. In that release, Ruch, citing a popular anti-Catholic book, said, "Scott Bloch's personnel practices are taken straight from The DaVinci Code rather than the civil service manual."
The PEER press release also said Bloch "is a religious conservative who had served as deputy director in the Justice Department's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives." PEER cited Bloch's hires of graduates from "ultra-conservative" Ave Maria Law School as Schedule A attorneys, who can be hired non-competitively, ignoring that he has also hired attorneys from George Washington, Georgetown, and the University of Virginia. And what exactly is Ruch's objection to Ave Maria? It is an accredited law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and its first class of graduates performed better on the bar exam than any other Michigan school. Are graduates there prohibited from government service in his view?
Bloch's predecessor Elaine Kaplan hired her labor union friends. Did Ruch object to that? Cary P. Sklar, who served as an associate special counsel under Kaplan at OSC, also worked for her during her last tenure at the National Treasury Employees Union, to which she has since returned.
Religious faith is a punch line to Bloch's critics: Ruch told the Bob Garfield radio show last month, "Mr. Bloch used to be the deputy director of the Justice Department Office of Faith Based Initiatives, and so we're telling whistleblowers that you better have faith..." He laughed as he said this.
Bloch's troubles from these groups may only increase in the coming months, especially if conservatives do not expose the left's anti-Catholic campaign here for what it is. A GAO spokesman confirmed Tuesday that his agency is auditing the OSC, at the behest of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.). He could not disclose the audit's scope. The Senate Committee on Government Affairs plans hearings into OSC this spring.
"Perhaps I'm unconventional in my methods," says Bloch. "But I'm not beholden to bureaucratic diplomacy. That's not something I want to understand." And contact with his son L. Cpl. Michael Bloch, 21, the oldest of seven, who just returned from his second tour in Iraq, keeps him "grounded in the mission of the agency."
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