Agents raid OSC chief’s office, home

Federal agents yesterday raided the office and residence of Office of Special Counsel head Scott J. Bloch as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into accusations that he obstructed justice.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington confirmed that agents from the bureau’s Washington field office, along with investigators from the inspector general’s office at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), “conducted a number of court-authorized federal search warrants,” but declined further comment.

Law enforcement authorities said nearly three dozen agents seized computers and reports from Mr. Bloch’s office and Virginia home in an investigation into accusations he intimidated and retaliated against whistleblowers among staff members working at the OSC. The OSC was established in the 1970s as an independent agency to protect whistleblowers and shield federal employees against improper management.

Mr. Bloch served on the Justice Department’s Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and was named by President Bush to head OSC four years ago. But the agency has been at odds with the White House during his tenure.

The OPM inspector general, at the behest of the president’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has been investigating a complaint by OSC staff members and others, including the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and the Public Employees for Environmental Protection (PEER), who accused Mr. Bloch of interfering in cases involving the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

At the same time, Mr. Bloch’s staff has been conducting an ever-expanding investigation into questions of whether Bush administration officials, including former political adviser Karl Rove, illegally participated in partisan politics on the job.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the FBI raid on Mr. Bloch’s office and home “reconfirms the need for this committee to continue its investigation of allegations that Mr. Bloch misused his government computer for personal business.”

Mr. Davis asked Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and committee chairman, to subpoena Mr. Bloch for a sworn deposition “so that we may obtain the answer to all questions the committee may have,” including responses to questions Mr. Bloch has refused to answer.

The OSC probe, which initially focused on possible Hatch Act violations at the General Services Administration (GSA), was expanded to include whether anyone in the executive branch used federal resources for partisan purposes, conducted partisan political business on federal time or tried to coerce federal employees into taking partisan political actions.

Included were political presentations and e-mail exchanges involving Cabinet offices and the executive branch, coordinated through the White House and Mr. Rove’s office. The inquiry has focused on 20 briefings the White House acknowledged giving to federal employees on the election prospects of Republican candidates, including a January briefing by Bush aide J. Scott Jennings to political appointees at the GSA.

Last week, GSA chief Lurita A. Doan was asked to step down after an April 29 meeting at the White House with Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and Counsel Fred F. Fielding.

The OPM investigation of Mr. Bloch centered on a complaint filed in 2005 that he created a hostile work environment with retaliatory acts against his employees, that a dozen employees thought to be whistleblowers were involuntarily reassigned, and that Mr. Bloch did not enforce bans on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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