Just when you thought the turmoil in the Office of Special Counsel could not get worse…guess what? It has.
Back in May, right around the time the FBI raided the OSC offices and executed search warrants for the head of the office, Scott Bloch, POGO obtained access to an amazing internal OSC document. Here the OSC is the office charged with protecting whistleblowers from reprisal, and investigating attempts to politicize the federal workforce. Yet a special task force set up by Bloch had had its mission turned upside down; rather than pursuing complex and high-profile investigations, they were being used by Bloch to fend off a long-running investigation of himself. With the FBI searches, it was clear that investigation, originally launched by the White House at the urging of POGO and other non-profits, had taken a serious new turn.
Since that time, a parade of OSC staffers have gone through the doors of the federal grand jury examining various questions about Bloch and his alleged misconduct; those allegations include accusations that he retaliated against whistleblowers within his own agency, and that he may have deleted files and obstructed investigators.
It is almost impossible to imagine how difficult it is for OSC staff to continue to do their jobs, when they are being called to testify about their boss's actions even while he continues to sit in the front office. But their ordeal has just become worse. Deputy Special Counsel James Byrne has called it quits, in an e-mail sent to all staff yesterday:
As you may have heard, I am resigning my career Senior Executive Service position as Deputy Special Counsel effective July 19, 2008. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded during my time at OSC, and I leave with a deep admiration for all of you -- the men and women who dedicate their lives to safeguarding the merit system and to protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices. Please let me know if there is anything that I need to tend to prior to my departure. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
All the best,
James M. Byrne
Deputy Special Counsel
In a classic example of what is meant by the phrase, "damning with faint praise," Bloch's response was maybe one notch up from "don't let the door hit you on your way out":
I want to thank Jim Byrne for his public service to OSC in his 18 months with the agency. I know you have all come to see his qualities of hard work and concern for the federal community we serve. The good news is, the units and task forces are working very well and the leadership in place is superior to face the challenges ahead.
Despite Bloch's blasé attitude that all will run smoothly without him, POGO has been told that Byrne had been one of the last remaining redoubts for that embattled staff. With him gone, where will they turn next? Is there any hope at all that the White House will finally do the right thing and tell Mr. Bloch it's time for him to go?
-- Beverley Lumpkin