Washington, DC — The agency that is supposed to police compliance with federal civil service rules is itself circumventing civil service rules by using no-bid consultants and hiring on a non-competitive basis, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is withholding records about its own personnel practices, including a contract with a former Catholic boarding school headmaster to serve as a special consultant, according to a lawsuit filed today by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act.
The current Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, is a religious conservative who had served as deputy director in the Justice Department's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Since becoming Special Counsel in January, Bloch has brought in a series of special consultants and non-competitive hires, including recent graduates of the ultra-conservative Ave Maria law school. A number of these new non-competitive hires have been assigned to career positions, working for career managers who had no input into their selection; in fact, the managers did not meet the new hires until the day they started work
"Scott Bloch's personnel practices are taken straight from The DaVinci Code rather than the civil service manual," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to what OSC staff members call Bloch's own "palace guard." "The mission of the Special Counsel is to protect the merit system, not subvert it."
PEER is seeking copies of contracts and work products for –
- Alan Hicks, a former headmaster of St. Gregory's Academy, a Catholic boarding school, who left in the wake of allegations concerning priests sexually preying on young students. Bloch has retained Hicks as a special consultant; and
- No-bid management consultant contracts let by Bloch.
Although OSC is struggling under large and growing backlogs of whistleblower disclosures and complaints, Bloch has increased the number of confidential assistants that report directly to him. By PEER's estimates, approximately 10 percent of the OSC staff positions are now personal picks by Bloch. Recently, the long-time Director of OSC's own Department of Human Resources, and her primary assistant, recently resigned their positions, and left the agency, giving only a few days notice.
Ironically, one of OSC's duties is to oversee administration of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Yet, when PEER requested its contract files, OSC sent a form letter stating that "due to the departure" of its FOIA officer "and a queue of pending requests" that there would be some delay in response. Three months later in September, PEER appealed OSC's continued non-response and received another, virtually identical form letter. PEER's suit under FOIA seeks the contract records it originally sought in June.
"The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to increase the transparency of government but Mr. Bloch appears dedicated to keep his agency's operations opaque," Ruch added, noting that Bloch has yet to release any documents about what he has done since he took office in January. "How can OSC monitor the Freedom of Information Act when it does not even answer its own mail?"