Office of Special Counsel chief under fire for erasing computer files

Conflict of interest charges flew Wednesday after a report that Special Counsel Scott Bloch, whose office is investigating improper White House political activity, erased computer files that may affect a separate probe into his own conduct.

Bloch's Office of Special Counsel, which investigates violations of government personnel rules, gained attention last spring when he announced a probe into whether briefings on electoral politics -- given to appointees at most agencies by former White House political aide Karl Rove or his aides -- led to violations of the Hatch Act, which bars use of government resources for partisan politics.

But when he announced the probe, Bloch faced an investigation into whether he politicized his office and retaliated against whistleblowers who opposed his policies, among them how OSC processes whistleblower complaints. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general, who leads the two-and-one-half-year-old investigation into Bloch, has learned the special counsel used agency funds to pay a computer-help company for a so-called seven-level wipe of his computer and those of two former aides. The wipe can prevent experts from recovering data.

Ironically, one of the areas targeted by OSC's wide-ranging investigation is White House officials' heavy use of campaign e-mail accounts. The White House has said many of the e-mails, which congressional critics have charged may have been used to mask improper political activity, were accidently erased. OSC has said it needs a budget increase for the Hatch Act probe to cover expenses including computer forensics equipment for such tasks as searching computer hard drives for deleted files. An OSC spokesman said Wednesday that the agency's investigation is not now focused on e-mails.

Wednesday's newspaper report was seized on by a group of nonprofit whistleblower protection groups and an attorney representing employees who say Bloch retaliated against them. The groups have long charged that Bloch launched OSC's investigation of the White House to make it harder for President Bush to fire him. Because Bloch has a five-year term designed to ensure independence, he can be removed by the president only for malfeasance.

"Mr. Bloch continues to cling to his strategy of using his 'investigation' of the White House to insulate himself from his own misdeeds," wrote Debra Katz, the attorney for the OSC whistleblowers, in a letter to Bush calling for Bloch's firing. Katz previously accused Bloch of obstructing the OPM probe and asked the White House to demand its completion.

Bloch has said the OPM IG has a conflict of interest in its investigation because of Bloch's Hatch Act investigation. Katz cited that claim as evidence for her contention about his motivation.

"That Mr. Bloch -- caught red-handed destroying evidence and obstructing justice -- has now himself openly attacked the ability of the OPM IG to conduct an impartial investigation speaks volumes," she wrote.

Katz told CongressDaily that Bloch's erasing of computer files might cause the OPM IG to refer the case to the Justice Department due to a possible criminal violation. The OSC spokesman said Bloch contends that a virus had infected his computer and that no documents relevant to any investigation were affected by the erasure. The spokesman also emphasized that OSC has a mandate to investigation Hatch Act violations.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.