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For Immediate Release: Mar 22, 2007
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CONGRESS WEIGHS FATE OF TROUBLED SPECIAL COUNSEL

Special Counsel Threatens Effectiveness of Congressional Whistleblower Reforms


Washington, DC — Congress should abolish the Office of Special Counsel because it does whistleblowers far more harm than good, according to congressional testimony submitted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Leaving the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) will undercut virtually the entire range of whistleblower reform legislation now moving through Congress, PEER warns.

Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs is holding a hearing entitled “Safeguarding the Merit System Principles: A Review of the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Office of Special Counsel.” The purpose of the hearing is to consider whether the OSC and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the civil service administrative court system, should be reauthorized in law. The reauthorization process is an opportunity for Congress to eliminate or reshape dysfunctional programs.

OSC, under its current head Scott Bloch, has been in a tailspin, lurching from embarrassment to embarrassment. Most critically, the OSC track record for helping whistleblowers, the principal role of the agency, has slipped from mediocre to dismal under Bloch. Moreover, Bloch himself is the subject of a wide-ranging whistleblower complaint filed by his own staff.

Meanwhile, Congress is passing legislation to broaden and strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act, the main statute administered by OSC and MSPB. PEER is arguing that these major reforms will be put at risk if OSC and, to a lesser extent, MSPB are left in place:

  • Legislation to extend whistleblower protection to large new groups of employees, such as workers in national security agencies, will be compromised if their complaints are blocked by Bloch’s office;
  • Expansion of whistleblower protection to include federal scientists who report attempts at data manipulation will founder if OSC defines rights out of existence, as it attempted to do with protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and
  • Creation of jury trial rights will be frustrated if employees must wait 300 days to exhaust the remedies available under OSC and MSPB before they can even commence trial.

“Under Scott Bloch, the Office of Special Counsel has become the bane of the merit system,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Bloch has also stocked OSC with other “movement conservatives.” “Even if Scott Bloch resigned tomorrow, it is too late as the culture at OSC is now irretrievably warped.”

PEER is urging Congress to shut the $15.3 million 110-employee OSC down, transferring its functions to other agencies that are better equipped to carry out the reforms Congress is now legislating

“Things are so bad with the Office of Special Counsel that, for the most part, the present system is worse than nothing,” Ruch concluded. “It is certain that we can do better.”

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Read the PEER testimony

Revisit the most recent scandals at OSC