Oversight committee asks OSC's Bloch to explain deleted files

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Thursday asked Special Counsel Scott Bloch to agree to a transcribed interview with committee staff to explain why he deleted from an office computer files that might have been relevant to an investigation into his conduct.

In a letter, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., said they "are interested in gaining understanding of several issues" raised by a report that Bloch in December 2006 had files on his computer and those used by two former aides erased by a private computer help service.

The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has sought the files for its two-and-one-half-year-old probe into allegations that Bloch, whose office investigates violations of workplace rules at federal agencies, retaliated against whistleblowers who opposed his policies.

Waxman's consent to the request is significant.

Davis for months has accused Bloch of leaking documents and courting the Democratic majority during OSC's investigation of political briefings at federal agencies.

Davis has also blasted a similar probe by committee Democrats.

Last summer, Davis tried to slash OSC's budget and demanded Bloch turn over e-mails related to what Republicans charged was improper use of office e-mail by Bloch. But Waxman did not back the request, leaving Davis unable to force Bloch to comply.

Waxman declined to comment, but a senior Republican committee aide said the chairman agreed to co-sign Thursday's letter because Bloch's recently disclosed actions were "too strange to ignore."

An OSC spokesman said Bloch is considering whether to comply with the request. The committee did not subpoena Bloch, but could do so if he refuses a voluntary interview.

The committee inquiry puts new pressure on Bloch, who in recent days has defended his actions in a radio interview and a letter to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the deletion of Bloch's files.

The letter asks Bloch why he used a private information technology company to perform a "seven-level wipe" on his computer, which makes it nearly impossible to recover data.

Bloch has said he hired the company because he thought his computer had a virus.

The OSC spokesman said Thursday that Bloch initially had his agency's IT staff work on his computer, but later brought in a private company when problems persisted.

The spokesman said Bloch also had the computers of former aides who had departed the agency wiped because the computer technicians arrived at the office while Bloch was not present and were billing the agency for their time.

The spokesman could not explain why Bloch, who has said all the deleted files were personal, used agency funds to pay for the work, which cost $1,149.

Bloch has said he backed up all the files on a portable thumb drive.

But he has refused to agree to a subpoena sent last month by the OPM IG seeking access to the thumb drive and his America Online e-mail account because the files are not relevant to the investigation, the spokesman said.

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