washingtonpost.com
Workers Applaud Special Counsel's Return to Private Sector

By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, October 22, 2008; D04

The reaction from leaders of organizations that work with federal employees to the announced resignation of Scott J. Bloch, the besieged U.S. special counsel, can be summed up in two words:

Good riddance.

"Mr. Bloch destroyed the credibility of the Office of Special Counsel," said Mark Roth, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees. "He committed more prohibited personnel practices in the unwarranted purge of numerous OSC [Office of Special Counsel] career staffers than he deterred.

"We look forward to Mr. Bloch returning and staying in the private sector."

Bloch resigned, effective Jan. 5, in a letter to President Bush on Monday. In it, Bloch praised his own leadership, saying the agency "has made unprecedented progress in eliminating case backlogs left by previous administrations."

The office describes its mission as "protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing." Bloch alluded only obliquely to his troubles in office, telling Bush: "As you well know, doing the right thing can result in much criticism and controversy from every side."

In Bloch's case, every side includes the FBI, which raided his home and office in May. The bureau reportedly is investigating accusations that Bloch politicized his office.

"His term has been marked by continuing controversies, including claims by his own employees that he has violated the very laws the OSC is charged with enforcing," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

In his letter, Bloch takes credit for increasing "our caseload capacity, resulting in a 400 percent increase in substantiated whistleblower disclosures and stepped up enforcement of job rights for military service members."

Yet, at least one whistleblower and an organization that works closely with them couldn't be happier to see Bloch go.

"Dedicated federal workers have been left to hang without a protector on their side," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "We are not sorry to see this pathetic chapter close."

Neither is Howard Floch, a surgeon who said he was fired by the Department of Veterans Affairs after he protested to Bloch's office about "what passed for medical care" at a VA hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"They certainly don't protect whistleblowers. This is well known. . . . . " Floch complained. "Anybody who becomes a whistleblower under the current system is out of his mind."

OSC spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wouldn't discuss details of Floch's case. Guglielmi said Bloch was unavailable for comment, but added that "our staff works really hard to protect the merit system."

Those representing workers in the merit system have a dramatically different view.

The special counsel's office "is supposed to be the first line of defense to protect federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, but over the last five years the OSC has ignored its statutory mission," said Richard N. Brown, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. "Federal employees have not been getting the protection they need and deserve. Under his tenure, federal employees have had little faith in their guaranteed protections."

In defense of employees at the agency, James Mitchell, who was suddenly fired as Bloch's chief of staff just before Labor Day, said they have tried, with great frustration, to carry out its mission while "in the middle of Hurricane Scott."

Honored for Good Work

While many cheered Bloch's resignation, another group of government watchdogs were celebrated for doing good work.

More than 95 workers from the inspectors general community were honored, as the Marine Band played rousing patriotic music, during a program at the ornate Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on Constitution Avenue.

Paul Converse, an auditor assigned to an inspector general's office in Iraq, was given a special recognition posthumously, the Sentner Award for Dedication and Courage.

Auditors are often thought of as bean counters who face no danger greater than paper cuts and terrible tedium.

But Converse was in Baghdad's Green Zone when that place of supposed safety came under fire. He died March 24.

He was remembered as a "man of integrity, diligence and compassion."

Contact Joe Davidson atfederaldiary@washpost.com.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company