- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

An expanded investigation by the Office of Special Counsel into questions of whether administration officials illegally participated in partisan politics on the job has been compromised, two Washington-based watchdog agencies said yesterday.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) said Scott J. Bloch’s probe of political activities of Bush administration officials and appointees comes at the same time as a White House-commissioned investigation into misconduct charges against Mr. Bloch.

“It makes no sense for Scott Bloch to investigate the White House while the White House investigates Bloch,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said. “Bloch should recuse himself from this case and hand the matter over either to career staff at OSC or to an outside entity, such as the relevant inspectors general or Congress.”

Beth Daley, POGO’s director of investigations, said it was “hard to believe” that OSC would be able to conduct a thorough investigation into the White House while Mr. Bloch is under investigation himself.

“You have to wonder if the people’s interest will outweigh one person’s desire to protect his own skin,” she said. “This is the bureaucratic equivalent of a mouse trying to swallow an elephant. The OSC has no standing to conduct the investigation, and Scott Bloch cannot possibly investigate the White House while it is investigating him.”

The OSC probe, which initially focused on possible Hatch Act violations at the General Services Administration (GSA), has been 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 will be political presentations and e-mail exchanges involving Cabinet offices and the executive branch, coordinated through the White House and the office of presidential adviser Karl Rove. The probe will examine 20 briefings the White House has 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.

Also under OSC review are accusations that former U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias in New Mexico was fired by the Bush administration for failing to pursue politically motivated prosecutions and was improperly penalized for taking time off to serve as a Navy Reserve captain.

The investigation of Mr. Bloch by the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General, at the behest of the president’s Office of Management & Budget, comes after a complaint by OSC staff members and whistleblower groups, including PEER, who accused him, among other things, of interfering with the handling of Hatch Act cases.

The complaint said 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.

Loren Smith, OSC’s director of congressional and public affairs, has told reporters that the investigation is being led by a career OSC official and not Mr. Bloch, adding that the law charges OSC with “doing the job and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Mr. Bloch first came under fire from the administration in 2004, when President Bush challenged a decision by Mr. Bloch to suspend enforcement in the federal workplace for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Democrats had called on Mr. Bush to either overturn the decision or fire Mr. Bloch.

He had said sexual orientation was not mentioned as a basis for discrimination in civil rights laws or in the statute under which OSC operated.

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