The report found that the reassignments ordered during the tenure of Scott Bloch – head of the Office of Special Counsel under President George W. Bush from 2004 to 2008 – could not be defended as “a legislative business purpose of the agency” and that they appeared “designed to … target the removal of certain employees.”
Bloch, reached for comment Friday, denied the report’s conclusion, defended the opening of the Detroit office and said the conversation reported by the consultant – former Army Lt. Gen. Richard Trefry – didn’t occur.
“He’s certainly not remembering anything correctly,” said Bloch. “It just didn’t happen.”
The OSC earlier this year settled with several employees who sued Bloch and the agency, complaining they were reassigned for improper reasons. Terms of the settlement were not released.
In a release, the OSC said Patrick McFarland, inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management who wrote the report, received “evidence that the reassignments were motivated by anti-gay animus.” Bloch said he had no such motivation, calling the report “a rehash of old unsubstantiated stories and muddled statements that I never made.”
The report adds to a lengthy saga involving Bloch, who earlier this year was ordered to spend one day in jail – and 24 months on probation – for having data removed from government computers, though he maintained it was done to protect them from viruses. Bloch also was charged with contempt of Congress in connection with that issue.
During his tenure, there also were complaints that Bloch went out of his way to hire young attorneys educated at the Ave Maria School of Law in Florida, a Roman Catholic institution founded by former Detroit Tigers owner and Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan of Ann Arbor, Mich., who is known for his religious and conservative viewpoints.
The OSC is an independent investigative federal unit that has as its primary mission “to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistle-blowing.”
In March 2005, several OSC employees alleged that Bloch had committed prohibited employment practices, including staff reassignments to a newly created Detroit office that the workers called “retaliatory in nature.”
Bloch and his staff defended the office opening and the reassignments as proper and necessary, but the inspector general’s report questioned both the placement of the office – saying it did little to cut costs – and the legitimate need for the reassignment of staff there and to an office in Dallas.
The report said Trefry’s firm was hired to do a management analysis of the OSC and counseled Bloch against the creation of a new field office and the reassignments.
Trefry told investigators that Bloch “openly explained to him that the OSC had a number of homosexual employees and that he (Mr. Bloch) wanted to ‘ship out’ these persons.”
The inspector general said Trefry told investigators that Bloch’s plan “was to create a new OSC field office in Detroit, Michigan, and assign to it the homosexual employees, along with others who he (Bloch) viewed as exerting a negative influence on the agency.”
Bloch – who said it was the General Services Agency, not he, who recommended Detroit as a branch office – noted the report never states unequivocally that he transferred anyone for improper purposes, nor that he had any knowledge that any specific employee was homosexual.
“It is an advocacy piece that does not give the other side,” he said.
Ultimately, no one was reassigned to Detroit – either finding employment elsewhere, being let go, or leaving the office. The inspector general’s report does not suggest any specific action and Bloch said, with the case settled, there are no legal ramifications that he is aware of.
The OSC didn’t immediately return calls or emails for comment. Debra Katz, a Washington attorney who represented some of the employees, said it could well lead to a congressional review of whether the Detroit office is necessary.
“The OPM report confirms what we had been saying for nearly 10 years,” said Katz, “that Bloch betrayed the public trust of his office by gutting legal protections of gay and lesbian federal employees the OSC is responsible for protecting, and by targeting gays and lesbians for removal from federal service.”