The White House on Thursday forced out a controversial investigator who had announced his resignation earlier this week but was not scheduled to leave until next year.
Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), was placed on administrative leave effective immediately, the White House said.
“We have put him on administrative leave until the end of his term,” White House spokesman Carlton Carroll said. “He is no longer serving as the special counsel.”
Watchdog groups applauded the move but said it was long overdue.
“After bringing Scott Bloch’s serious misconduct to the attention of the White House for almost four years, we are pleased that the Bush administration has finally acted to remove this rogue presidential appointee,” said Debra Katz, an attorney for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).
“Unfortunately, President Bush’s action comes far too late for OSC employees and other federal workers who have been denied a safe outlet to report fraud, waste and abuse throughout his disgraceful tenure,” Miss Katz said. “Bloch has allowed federal workers to be subjected to retaliation with impunity and has done great damage to the agency’s mission and the public that it was established to protect.”
POGO reported that federal agents were sent to the OSC offices Thursday morning when Mr. Bloch was summoned to the White House for a meeting and informed of the decision to suspend him from his post. The White House would not confirm these reports.
Mr. Bloch had announced Monday that he would resign from his post effective Jan. 5, at the end of his five-year term. Under the law, he could have remained in his job until the Senate confirmed a successor, but the immediate administrative leave makes that no longer possible.
Mr. Bloch had overseen OSC since 2004. The office upholds laws on discrimination and whistleblower protection, and enforces laws against political activity by government employees, also called Hatch Act violations.
But Mr. Bloch, a 50-year old lawyer and father of seven who previously served as deputy director of the Justice Department’s Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, began to draw scrutiny from the start of his OSC tenure.
His first brush with controversy was in 2004, when he ordered all mentions of discrimination against gays removed from OSC’s Web site and literature, claiming his office did not have authority to enforce such laws. This prompted the White House to issue a statement saying that gay employees were legally protected from discrimination.
In 2005, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) opened a probe into whether Mr. Bloch had retaliated against employees who opposed his policies.
In 2007, Mr. Bloch announced that he would open an expansive investigation into whether the Bush administration had violated the Hatch Act by giving political presentations to federal employees and vowed also to look at the disappearance of White House e-mails in connection with the U.S. attorneys scandal.
Independent watchdog groups pressing the White House on these same issues decried Mr. Bloch’s probe, saying it was an effort to distract from his own troubles.
Then in 2007, congressional investigators discovered that one year earlier, Mr. Bloch had called Geeks on Call and paid the computer-help service $1,149 to scrub all the information from his personal work computer and two other computers used by OSC officials who had recently left the agency.