Wednesday, December 20, 2006

How the Office of Special Counsel got the Sternberg issue so wrong

Steve Reuland at the Panda's Thumb points out how egregiously bad the OSC has become under Special Counsel Scott Bloch, and how that led to its poor handling of the Sternberg affair:
  1. Bloch is a far-right wing activist and a notorious homophobe.
  2. Upon taking office Bloch immediately removed references to sexual orientation discrimination from the OSC website. Bloch has indicated that he will not protect gays from discrimination in contradiction of White House policy.
  3. Bloch is alleged to have used the OSC for partisan political purposes by ignoring claims made against Republicans while vigorously pursuing complaints lodged against Democrats.
  4. Bloch doubled the number of political appointees in the OSC, giving high paying salaries to many of his friends and fellow right-wing activists who have no relevant experience. He has simultaneously eviscerated the OSC’s professional staff, much of whom has either been fired for not relocating on short notice or resigned in frustration.
  5. James McVay, who wrote the preliminary report concerning Sternberg, is one of Bloch’s more controversial political appointees. He has no experience in employment law, whistleblower law, or federal-sector work.
  6. Many hundreds of meritorious cases, which by all accounts should have been investigated, were dismissed without investigation by Bloch’s office. Meanwhile, matters over which OSC has no jurisdiction have been pursued rigorously. (Sound familiar?)
  7. According to the OSC’s own polling, Federal employees are extremely dissatisfied with the work being done by the OSC, and effectively no whistleblowers have received relief as a result of the complaints they filed.
  8. When complaints were made about Bloch’s behavior and mistreatment of the staff, Bloch not only dismissed the complaints, he allegedly retaliated against the people who made them and issued a gag order preventing the OSC staff from speaking to anyone outside of the agency. Ironically, it is precisely this type of retaliation and intimidation of whistleblowers that the OSC is tasked with investigating.
  9. As a result of OSC failing to discharge its duties and taking revenge on aggrieved staff, former staff members and numerous whistleblower protection groups have filed a complaint with the Office of Personnel Management, which has launched an investigation (still on-going, as far as I can tell). Additionally, two Senate committees were forced to hold hearings concerning Bloch’s behavior.

It almost couldn’t get worse. There is a long and sordid history since Bloch took over the OSC of cronyism, political bias, shirking, and unfair treatment of staff. Scott Bloch makes former FEMA director Michael Brown look like a brilliant leader and seasoned professional by comparison.

This explains how the OSC managed to produce an preliminary investigation on the Sternberg affair that is so completely divorced from reality. Put simply, it was a political hatchet job, yet another in a long line of abuses that the OSC has become infamous for. What’s perhaps most telling about all of this is that in spite of having a major backlog in cases, in spite of trying to pare down this backlog by dismissing meritorious cases without investigation, the OSC somehow found the time to investigate a case for which they knew they had no jurisdiction. Amazing, isn’t it? If you are a whistleblower who needs protection, or a gay federal worker who’s been discriminated against, the OSC simply doesn’t have time for you. They’re too busy pursuing cases outside of their jurisdiction in service of the Culture Wars.

Considering that Sternberg should have known that the OSC lacked jurisdiction, it is my belief that the Discovery Institute referred him to Bloch’s office knowing that even though the case was outside the OSC’s purview, even though there were more appropriate venues for handling a legitimate grievance of this kind, Bloch and McVay would dutifully issue a preliminary report that would serve the propaganda purposes of the DI. One even wonders if the DI wrote the report for them.

Reuland has more at the Panda's Thumb.

(The Sternberg affair is described here, here, and here.)

UPDATE (May 7, 2008): The FBI raided Scott Bloch's home and offices yesterday, Tuesday, May 6, 2008, seizing computers and shutting down email service as part of a Justice Department probe.

UPDATE (October 27, 2008): Scott Bloch has been fired.

9 comments:

Richardcarstone said...

You are publishing falsehood. Defamation, to be more precise. There is no evidence presented that Bloch is guilty of any wrongdoing. I have been to the OSC website, and they have a letter from Congress oversight committee showing a bipartisan group of investigators looked into his files, spoke to staff and went through hundreds of files. They found nothing, in fact they said he was doing a great job for whistleblowers.

On the website they have a button for successful case summaries, another button for OSC Success, with graphs and charts showing big improvements for OSC, and many many cases listed their press releases that show they have been doing gonzo aggressive work for federal employees and whistleblowers.

What do you show? What evidence, what actual numbers of real cases other than arguing from numbers you have misinterpreted and misrepresented to the public. Reprinting someone else's falsehood as if they are truth is one of the lowest forms of sliminess known to the human race. It is pure viciousness without any justification.

I have seen other crap like this defamation coming from an idiot named Ruch with a nothing organization called PEER (who comes up with these loser names anyway?), who may be the same person under a pseudonym as this idiot writing here. PEER is a joke in the federal community. It's just a form of character assassination by accusation. Zero evidence.

They only reason you and PEER are trying to assassinate Bloch's character is because he interpreted the law as not providing specific protections for gays. From what I can tell, it may be perfectly defensible position that has nothing to do with bigotry or personal agendas. Or, For all I know he is a bad guy, but innuendo and accusation are no evidence in America or any liberal democracy. You pro-gay bigots are all too common among these website blogs.

Because I knew you must be blowing falsehoods, I have read up on Sternberg, and it looks from the actual evidence now on a House government reform committee website from Cong. Souder, that he was badly mistreated. They reprint all the e mails and data showing the campaign to unfairly discredit and character assassinate Sternberg and drive him from scientific communities, simply because he allowed a peer reviewed article critical of Darwinian explanations for evolution to be published in Smithsonian's magazine. If it weren't for the hot button evolution issue, this idiot from Panda Thumb would be outraged at the discrimination and bigotry used against Mr. Sternberg who appears to be a very qualified, credentialed scientist who merely questioned Darwinian politically correct notions of the specific mechanism for evolutionary development of life.

I think this Panda Thumb should be called Thumb Screw for its bigoted and totally defamatory bent, never once bothering with actual evidence or rational argumentation, but slandering people right and left (usually right, since they appear to be so ideologically knee-jerk, unreasoning left).

You pandas are more like panderers, and you need to get a life and try on some decency and submission to standards of evidence before you condemn people you find disagreeable or wrong. You are not reasonable, you are not liberal. You are probably homosexual activists who don't care about assassinating people with whom you disagree. I've seen too much of this from you bullying gays and union activists. You think ends justify unfair and unlawful means. Your actions are reckless and reprehensible.

Jim Lippard said...

Richard:

You've not supplied any evidence to support your view, and your position regarding the Sternberg affair is completely refuted by the evidence, as Ed Brayton has spelled out in great detail.

Jim Lippard said...

Richard (probably not your real name, "Richard Carstone" is a character in Bleak House, but you're an AOL user who connects through Verizon in Washington, D.C.--do you have any insider knowledge of the OSC?):

Some of the same information Steve Reuland posted about Scott Bloch and the OSC may be found in this Boston Phoenix article from 2005.

Note that one of Bloch's outspoken defenders in that piece is William Donohue of the Catholic League. If that's the sort of person defending Bloch, I'd say that tends to support the case against him. Donohue is a fanatical nutball (do a search for posts about William Donohue at scienceblogs.com for a few gems).

BTW, I don't know who Ruch is or who PEER are, and I post under my real name.

Jim Lippard said...

Ah, here's who Ruch and PEER are.

I hope that Richard Carstone will return and be specific about what claims he thinks are false regarding Sternberg or Bloch.

Red said...

Jim, I have a few problems with your post.

-“Bloch is a far-right wing activist and a notorious homophobe.” Is this assertion based on anything prior to the couple years he’s been at OSC? From his bio he worked at the Justice Department’s Faith-Based Office for a few years and before that he was a respected, uncontroversial lawyer in Kansas for a couple decades. Checking on Google I don’t see much else, but maybe I’m missing something.

Usually if a guy gets accused of extremist crackpottery, you can go back to his many years with the John Birch Society, or as a hatchet man for Richard Nixon or Jesse Helms, or as a grand wizard for the KKK, or some wild stuff like that. Does Bloch *really* merit such a label?

-“[Bloch will contradict Bush WH policy on protecting gays from discrimination.]” Please forgive the summary. First of all, OSC doesn’t have any connection with WH policy – it’s independent. For instance, Bloch’s Clinton-appointed predecessor, Elaine Kaplan, served until 2003. The very idea of the office is to have no connection with WH policy – obviously there might be overlap between appointer and appointee, but it certainly shouldn’t be *enforced*! That turns on its head the idea of having an independent, watchdog agency.

In any event, OSC is supposed to be governed by statutes (or laws) that tell it what to do. These are not “policies” to be changed on a whim when a different political party takes the White House – this includes executive orders issued and changed unilaterally by Presidents. The law says that OSC is required to protect people based on discrimination for race, sex, religion, and a couple other things. It’s a list of items in the Prohibited Personnel Practices law. The list doesn’t include sexual orientation, period. Progressives and other folks favoring the protections have tried a few times to push them through Congress, but it hasn’t succeeded. Until that day, much like with Hate Crimes legislation, it just isn’t covered.

More later.

-Red Rabbit

Jim Lippard said...

Red:

First, please note that I am quoting from a post by Scott Reuland that is background information relevant to the OSC's investigation of the Sternberg affair, which we *know* was completely screwed up by the OSC.

Second, I personally don't think "homophobe" is a synonym for "anti-gay" or "opposed to gay rights." In the case of Bloch, it appears that his actions support the latter label. Under Bloch, the OSC has gone from an agency that did address discrimination claims on the basis of sexual orientation to one that does not. His position appears to be that he has done this because the OSC statute (which includes the Prohibited Personnel Practices you mention) does not support such actions and to help reduce the OSC backlog, though he also says that only "three to five" such complaints are received per year.

You and he are clearly correct that "sexual orientation" is not included as a protected category or mentioned in that statute. However, item 10 on the list is a general prohibition on "discriminate based on personal conduct which is not adverse to the on-the-job performance of an employee, applicant, or others."

Regarding Bloch's "far-right" status, I think the only specific evidence I've seen (beyond the fact that he was appointed by George W. Bush, who is well-known for applying political litmus tests beyond the point of absurdity, to the exclusion of qualifications or competence) is that he was a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute (in 2002), which allegedly opposes gay rights (and if so would support the application of the description "opposed to gay rights" to him). That is only a fellowship to attend a one-week seminar at the Claremont Institute, so that seems to me to be extremely weak evidence--and I note another Lincoln Fellow at that same year's seminar was Timothy Sandefur, who is definitely not "far-right."

Jim Lippard said...

A couple of interesting Washington Post articles about Scott Bloch:

1. He cancelled an award presentation for the OSC Public Servant of the Year at the last minute and lied about the reason.

2. He published an inappropriate set of dress code recommendations in the OSC employee newsletter, which turned out to be plagiarized from student web sites at two universities.

Steve Reuland said...

"You are publishing falsehood. Defamation, to be more precise. There is no evidence presented that Bloch is guilty of any wrongdoing."

Actually, I presented lots of evidence. In addition to those links provided that Jim reproduced, I provided links to seven additional articles, most of which have numerous links embedded within them. And they're are all from different sources, including mainstream media sources. That's about as much evidence as one could possibly provide.

I'm not the least bit surprised that when a Republican dominated committee looked into Bloch's machinations, in a Congress that was notorious for not exercising proper oversight, they chose to find nothing wrong. It would be shocking if it were otherwise. However, the claim that Bloch's office has done "a great job for whistleblowers" is belied by the fact whistleblower protection groups are the very ones complaining about Bloch. Like the OSC report on Sternberg, the conclusions just don't fit the publically available facts.

It's possible of course that these numerous complaints and allegations are without merit. But we're not talking about one or two disgruntled employees here, we're talking about dozens of non-partisan watchdog groups and a significant fraction of the current and previous staff. Even the guy who Bloch was giving "the whistleblower of the year" award to turned critic. We are also talking about a pattern of behavior that is not in dispute -- a gag order against employees, relocating large amounts of staff, hiring only conservative Catholics, etc. -- that fits in perfectly with these allegations as well. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.

Steve Reuland said...

Red Rabbit wrote:

-"Bloch is a far-right wing activist and a notorious homophobe.” Is this assertion based on anything prior to the couple years he’s been at OSC?"

Yes, you can find plenty of evidence for this in the many sources I provided. In addition I have communicated with someone who knows (or knew) Bloch personally and can attest to the fact that he is a hard-core culture warrior and a homophobe.

"Usually if a guy gets accused of extremist crackpottery, you can go back to his many years with the John Birch Society... Does Bloch *really* merit such a label?"

No, he does not, which is why I didn't use that label. I simply said he is a far-right activist. I think the evidence backs that up. Check out the people he hired for example. One doesn't do that sort of thing if one is not an activist. (Although I suppose the fact that he hires only right-wing Catholics could be chalked up to cronyism, but, you know, birds of a feather...)

"First of all, OSC doesn’t have any connection with WH policy – it’s independent. ...

In any event, OSC is supposed to be governed by statutes (or laws) that tell it what to do."


This is true, but the fact is that gays were protected from discrimination by the previous Special Counsel. Bloch reversed this without any particular cause. When the White House was asked for its opinion, the Bush administration said that gays should in fact be protected under the law as it stands.

My apologies if I gave the impression that Bloch is somehow required to follow the President's wishes. The point is simply that Bloch is extreme to the point of being to the right of the President on gay rights issues. That's pretty bad.

One could accept the possibility that the statute simply cannot be interpreted to cover sexual orientation, and for some strange reason Bloch has his hands tied whereas his predecessor did not, but that sounds pretty unlikely to me. More likely that he deliberately excluded gays because of his prejudice.