Washington, DC - The U.S. Special Counsel has handed out termination papers to seven headquarters staff members who refused involuntary reassignment to a proposed new office in Detroit and an existing office in Dallas. The seven were given one week - the minimum period allowed - to change their minds or be removed from the federal service in 30 days, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Last month, Scott Bloch, the Bush-appointed Special Counsel, abruptly ordered 12 headquarters employees, on penalty of removal, to relocate to Dallas, Oakland and a newly created Detroit field office. Originally, five employees accepted the reassignments; with four of those five indicating that their acceptance was under duress. One of the four who accepted the reassignment under duress has found a position outside OSC and has submitted a letter of resignation. The remaining seven staff members declined the involuntary transfers and now are being removed.
The 12 reassigned employees represent more than a fifth of the Special Counsel headquarters legal and investigative staff. Bloch did not consult beforehand with the people he selected for relocation nor did he ask for volunteers who might be willing to move. All 12 are career employees hired before Bloch became Special Counsel, an agency with the mission of protecting federal whistleblower and merit system rights.
Last week six members of Congress requested the Government Accountability Office to investigate Bloch's re-organization, as well as his use of no-bid contracts and hiring of cronies, including his son's former Catholic boarding school headmaster as a special consultant.
- This latest step, however, will have impact on all federal employees seeking help from OSC:
- Many of the most experienced whistleblower lawyers and investigators are now gone or reassigned;
- OSC's highly successful Alternative Disputes Resolution program, which mediated disputes between employees claiming retaliation and agency management, is ended; and
- Bloch's proposed "Midwest Field Office in Detroit" will likely not have enough staff to effectively function, as only two staff members have tentatively agreed to relocate there under threat of termination.
"The person giving out these pink slips should be the one on the receiving end," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is suing Bloch to obtain copies the no-bid consultant contracts he let out to friends and copies of the work produced. "In federal court, Scott Bloch is claiming that he does not have enough staff to even respond to Freedom of Information Act requests and then a week later he fires seven more staff-go figure."
Bloch's 13-month tenure as Special Counsel has been marred by repeated missteps, including an embarrassing reversal on protecting federal employees on the basis of sexual orientation, issuing a gag order to his staff to deter what he described as "leakers," and sewing confusion during the height of last year's presidential campaign with a directive that candidates could not make campaign appearances inside federal structures.