Washington, DC -- The U.S. Special Counsel, the principal protector of federal civil service rights, has sent what appears to be an illegal gag order to his own staff, according to a letter of protest filed today by three national whistleblower watchdog groups.
Scott Bloch, recently appointed by the Bush Administration to serve a five-year term as the U.S. Special Counsel, began his tenure by suspending agency policies protecting federal employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Last week, in an embarrassing rebuke, the White House announced a reversal of Bloch's self-imposed suspension.
After complaining in media interviews about "leakers" within his own agency being responsible for the controversy that was actually triggered by Bloch ordering material removed from OSC's public web site, Bloch issued the following to all agency staff:
"[The] Special Counsel has directed that any official comment on or discussion of …sensitive internal agency matters with anyone outside OSC must be approved in advance…"
In addition, Bloch forbade his staff from even discussing the newly restored sexual orientation anti-discrimination policy with outsiders, including other federal employees and agencies asking for guidance, and instead "simply refer them to the [new] press release on our web site as a complete and definitive statement of OSC's policy."
The three whistleblower protection organizations (the Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Project on Government Oversight) condemned Bloch's order on the grounds that his actions may violate the Whistleblower Protection Act, statutory restrictions against use of public funds to establish or enforce broad non-disclosure policies (i.e., gag orders) and constitutional free speech guarantees. "Talk about being unclear on the concept of whistleblower protection," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who noted that Bloch has refused to meet to discuss agency practices. "The Special Counsel is the last official that should be issuing gag orders." "It is ironic that the nation's protector of whistleblowers is not protecting his own," said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight. "How can we in good conscience send whistleblowers to Mr. Bloch?"
"An office whose mission it is to protect whistleblowers should not be trying to gag its own would be whistleblowers," stated Louis Clark, President, Government Accountability Project. "This action strikes me as unlawful, unwise and unacceptable."
Read the joint GAP-PEER-POGO letter of protest