OSC chief made subordinate post online rebuttals to news stories

By Dan Friedman

June 13, 2008

Scott Bloch, the embattled head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, whose office and home federal agents raided last month, has faced a lot of bad publicity. And he evidently doesn't like it.

On many occasions since 2006, Bloch ordered a subordinate to post comments on blogs and in the "comment" sections of online news stories using a pseudonym, current and former OSC employees told CongressDaily. The postings have defended Bloch against online articles and comments by readers that he has perceived as negative, the sources said.

"That did go on," said a former employee who has been involved in the activity. "Bloch would suggest posting things in the comments section. ... There'd be a negative article about Scott's involvement on something ... and [the] comment would be something like 'This Bloch guy is doing a good job."

Two former OSC employees have gone so far as to describe Bloch as thin-skinned and "obsessed" with his press coverage.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Bloch obstructed justice by destroying files sought by the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general, who was looking into allegations that Bloch improperly retaliated against OSC employees for opposing his policies.

The former OSC employee familiar with the anonymous postings on Bloch's behalf was recently interviewed by FBI agents gathering evidence for the grand jury probe but said the agents did not ask about the issue.

Roscoe Howard, an attorney representing Bloch, said Bloch would not comment due to the continuing criminal probe. An OSC spokesman said Bloch was unavailable Thursday.

The former OSC employee, who described the Web posting operation in exchange for anonymity, said such instances might have numbered in "the double digits." Bloch "would be involved in the discussion of what should be said," the employee said.

The employee suggested at least one OSC worker posted comments on the Web sites of such publications as the Washington Post, Topeka Capital-Journal, and the Lawrence Journal World. The two Kansas-based publications have written about Bloch because he is from the state.

In another instance confirmed by CongressDaily, an OSC employee who has not served in the military identified himself as "A Combat Vet" in an online response to a July 13, 2007, article on GovernmentExecutive.com. In the article, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans faulted Bloch for his use of personal e-mail to discuss agency business.

The anonymous posting said news organizations were devoting too little coverage to OSC's enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which bars discrimination against people based on service in the armed services.

"Where is the coverage of USERRA?" the posting asked. "OSC helped my buddy out when he couldn't get his job back, and it doesn't seem like anybody is checking into how it helps veterans. ... Who the hell cares if Bloch sent an email about congresscritters goofing off and playing pattycake. This USERRA issue is a huge deal for us who served. Does anyone give a crap?"

At the time, public affairs officials at OSC, which enforces federal workplace rights, were urging reporters to cover USERRA enforcement cases.

During the hearing described in the article, House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, citing an e-mail Bloch had sent, accused him of acting inappropriately in distributing to several people news articles about OSC investigations of federal officials.

Davis offered similar criticism Thursday.

"A public official should be accountable to the public." Davis said in a statement. "To secretly use the resources and personnel of his office -- on government time -- to comment on negative press reports is improper and deprives the public of accountability.

"If true, this could constitute an unlawful use of appropriated funds to publish covert propaganda," Davis said. "This is further evidence that Scott Bloch is unfit for his office and should resign, be fired or at least be placed on administrative leave."

Davis added that he would ask House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman "to initiate an investigation into this activity."


By Dan Friedman

June 13, 2008

http://www.govexec.com/oversight/2008/06/osc-chief-made-subordinate-post-online-rebuttals-to-news-stories/27066/