By Daniel Pulliam
July 20, 2007
The head of the Office of Special Counsel is facing questions from members of his own political party on his office's handling of an investigation into a potential violation of the law limiting politics in federal agencies.
In a letter Friday, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Special Counsel Scott Bloch to hand over certain e-mails sent from his personal AOL account that relate to official OSC matters. The e-mails would help determine whether Bloch conducted work through personal e-mail or engaged in prohibited lobbying, Davis said.
In a second letter Friday, Davis posed a wide range of questions stemming from a hearing last week on Bloch's leadership. During the July 12 hearing, Davis revealed that Bloch had sent at least one e-mail from his AOL account related to official business.
The message -- sent June 19 -- discussed the pending reauthorization of OSC, the agency charged with safeguarding the federal merit system. The message also criticized General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan, who OSC investigated for alleged violations of the Hatch Act. And it criticized two members of Congress with oversight responsibility for OSC.
"We have received the letters from Rep. Davis, but we will not be commenting at this time," said James Mitchell, an OSC spokesman.
In a third letter Thursday, Davis asked Randy Falco, chairman and chief executive officer of AOL, to protect and preserve all e-mail records associated with Bloch's account.
Work-related messages sent from private accounts may not get preserved as required by the Federal Records Act, and they also may not be accessible to the public through the Freedom of Information Act, Davis said.
Last month, Bloch sent a report to the White House concluding that Doan violated the Hatch Act and recommending that President Bush discipline her "to the fullest extent" for the violation and her failure to cooperate fully and honestly with OSC's investigation.
OSC found that Doan violated the Hatch Act at a Jan. 26 meeting at the agency's headquarters. During that meeting, attended by Doan and more than 30 political appointees, Scott Jennings, a deputy to Karl Rove, the leading political strategist at the White House, presented a PowerPoint presentation that listed Republican and Democratic political races viewed by the White House as most vulnerable in 2008. Doan asked Jennings how GSA could help Republicans, according to OSC.
The White House has received OSC's report, but a spokeswoman said Thursday the findings still are being reviewed. The report was delivered to President Bush six weeks ago. The spokeswoman has noted the White House has no deadline for completing its review.
Bloch's office also is heading up a governmentwide investigation of alleged violations of the Hatch Act that could go "well into 2008," according to an OSC spokesman. The White House revealed in May that federal agencies hosted about 20 briefings in 2006 and 2007 similar to the one at the heart of the Doan investigation.
Eighteen agencies have been asked by OSC to preserve electronic information dating back to January 2001, including all e-mail records, calendar information, phone logs and hard drives. The task force is headed by James Byrne, deputy special counsel at OSC.
By Daniel Pulliam
July 20, 2007