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Federal Diary

Reorganization of Special Counsel's Office Raises Concerns in Congress

By Stephen Barr
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; Page B02

Six House Democrats yesterday asked the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, to investigate a reorganization at the Office of Special Counsel, headed by Scott J. Bloch.

The House members, in a letter to GAO, said they wanted "to learn more about the rationale" for actions taken by Bloch, including his order requiring 12 District-based employees to accept reassignment to field offices or face dismissal.

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Cathy Deeds, the agency's spokeswoman, said the reorganization complies with civil service law. She said the agency had not received the letter from the House members.

The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal agency that investigates complaints of waste, fraud and mismanagement filed by whistle-blowers, protects federal employees from prohibited personnel actions, and enforces the Hatch Act, which limits partisan activities by government workers.

Bloch, appointed by President Bush, was sworn in as special counsel in January 2004. He previously served as deputy director and counsel to the task force for faith-based and community initiatives at the Justice Department.

The letter was organized by Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and signed by Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

Three watchdog groups had complained that Bloch's reorganization was an attempt to purge career employees and replace them with political allies. The complaint was made by Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project.

Two federal unions -- the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union -- also have called on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to probe Bloch's reorganization. The committee's staff is looking into the matter, a spokeswoman said.

The letter from the House Democrats asks GAO to investigate why Bloch told 12 employees in Washington to transfer to field offices or face dismissal; why he wants to open a Detroit office "even though the OSC does not appear to have a significant caseload in that region," and why Bloch has approved the use of no-bid management consultant contracts.

In addition, the House members asked GAO to determine why Bloch signed a contract with a former boarding school headmaster "for unspecified services."

Deeds said the agency has "fully complied with all civil service rules and regulations. This is a management-directed restructuring and reassignment, which is quite common in the federal workplace."

Bloch announced the reorganization last month as part of an effort to improve the agency's efficiency and "power down" the D.C. headquarters. Opening a Midwest field office will improve the agency's flexibility to process employee complaints and reduce a backlog of cases, the agency said in its announcement.

Deeds also said yesterday that Bloch is "very committed to the nonpartisan enforcement of the Hatch Act." She said a career federal employee will continue to lead the agency's Hatch Act enforcement unit and recommend cases to Bloch for prosecution.

The Senior Executives Association, in a letter last week, expressed concerns about reports that management of the Hatch Act unit would be placed under a political appointee.

Retirements

Nancy Chapman, director of terminal program operations at the Federal Aviation Administration, retired after 37 years of federal service.

Rosemarie Straight, executive director at the Federal Trade Commission, is retiring after 22 years of service at the agency, the FTC announced yesterday. She was named to the post in 1997 and helped improve the agency's technology to support the Do Not Call Registry, which contains more than 84 million telephone numbers.

Diary Live

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, will discuss pay and personnel changes underway at the Department of Homeland Security at noon tomorrow on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com


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