Panel poised to curb OSC discretion in whistleblower probes

A House committee appears likely to approve legislation limiting the discretion of the small but controversial Office of Special Counsel in whistleblower investigations.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee Tuesday will mark up a reauthorization bill for OSC and the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Both agencies have responsibility for alleged violations of certain civil service protections. A draft reauthorization bill cuts the reauthorization period for both from six to three years.

The bill contains provisions requiring the agencies to report more often to Congress and to give complainants more information on their cases.

The measure appears to take aim at embattled Special Counsel Scott Bloch, who government watchdog organizations have blasted for what they call lackluster enforcement of whistleblower laws and for a 2005 decision not to pursue sexual orientation discrimination cases at federal agencies.

"Congress repudiates any assertion that federal employees are not protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," the bill says.

It also adds language requiring that the special counsel have experience related to "protecting the merit based civil service."

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is considering a similar bill, though it has yet to schedule a hearing.

Good government groups lauded the legislation. "We may have all the frustration that Mr. Bloch has generated to thank for a thorough overhaul of the whistleblower review process," said Tom Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project.

OSC will also likely face criticism from Republicans who at a prior reauthorization hearing accused Bloch of pandering to the Democrats in an investigation of alleged illegal political activity at federal agencies.

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