Scott Bloch, the former head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), was sentenced to one month in prison, twelve months probation and 200 hours of community service yesterday, after he pled guilty to criminal charges for his misconduct during is tenure at OSC.
Today, Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia postponed Scott Bloch’s sentencing once again until Thursday, March 10, 2011. Prosecutors urged the judge to reconsider her ruling last week that the charge of lying to Congress carries a one-month minimum jail sentence.
Scott Bloch was the former head of the Office of Special Counsel. He pled guilty in April to contempt of Congress for lying about his effort to erase files from government computers. Bloch withheld information from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during the Bush administration. Federal investigators charged him, the nation’s former top protector of whistleblowers, with criminal contempt of Congress.
His sentencing has been continuously postponed because his charge is rare and a verdict has been difficult to determine. Last week, in her 13-page ruling Judge Robinson declared that the dispute was a novel one with no published opinion on what the sentencing for contempt of Congress is.
Former Special Counsel Scott Bloch pled guilty earlier this year to one count of criminal contempt of Congress. He was due to be sentenced on Wednesday, but it was delayed so that the magistrate judge can decide whether there is a minimum one-month mandatory jail term. The statute (2 U.S.C. Section 192) says a person “shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.”
Bloch and the government both claim that the plea deal reached was based on a sentence of probation, a fine and community service. The prosecutors are not seeking jail time. The court is not bound by the plea deal, but if the judge rules that there is a minimum one-month sentence, Bloch could move to withdraw his plea deal.
Former U.S. Special Council for the Office of Special Council (OSC) Scott Bloch has been charged with criminal contempt of Congress for withholding “pertinent” information from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Bloch, the head of an office designed to protect whistleblowers and enforce anti-discrimination laws, allegedly retaliated against employees and dismissed whistleblower cases without fully investigating them. Bloch resigned in October 2008 amid these allegations, and the office has remained vacant under the Obama administration. See Truthout.org coverage of the Bloch scandal for more information
The National Whistleblowers Center has since called for President Obama to appoint a new Special Council who will protect whistleblowers. In a statement, Stephen Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center said:
The new (Special Council) appointee must be top notch and must have the background and experience, not only as a proven strong advocate for whistleblowers, but as a tough and aggressive enforcement official…Whistleblowers need a real advocate and a powerful voice within the administration.
The OSC has a duty to fully review legitimate whistleblower claims, and employees should not be retaliated against in an office structured to combat that very behavior within the government. The Office of Special Council has had a highly criticized history, but President Obama can write a new chapter and fulfill his campaign promise to appoint a Special Council who will protect whistleblowers.
The public can help this cause by taking action and sending a letter supporting the appointment of a true whistleblower advocate for Special Council.
*Philip Barrett (NWC Intern) contributed to this post
It has become apparent that Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, was fired by the Bush Administration. This decision comes more than five months after Bloch became the target of an federal obstruction of justice probe. Bloch’s tenure has been a tumultuous one, and federal government whistleblowers have paid a heavy price.
The National Whistleblower Center’s President, Stephen M. Kohn, issued the following statement upon the termination of Special Counsel Scott Bloch:
"The termination of Special Counsel Scott Bloch represents the low point in the history of the Office of Special Counsel. Originally intended to protect whistleblowers, the Office has never fulfilled its promise. Since its inception, the Office has ignored or ruled against the overwhelming majority of federal employee whistleblowers. The institution itself has never acted as a "safe harbor" for whistleblowers. Under Special Counsel Bloch, the Office imploded. Ignoring its mission to protect whistleblowers, the management of the OSC turned on its own staff."
"Change must come to the OSC and it must come fast. We call upon the new President and Congress to ensure that the position of Special Counsel be filled by a truly experienced and competent advocate for whistleblowers. Moreover, Congress and the President must act in a bi-partisan manner to ensure that never again will the Office be politicized and used as a patronage slot. The problem rests with both the President and Congress. Historically, Congress has failed to exercise any oversight concerning the appointment of the Special Counsel. That must end. This position is critically important for the enforcement of federal laws and the protection of taxpayer dollars. Employees risk their careers to do the right thing and report misconduct and abuses of power. The new President must do the right thing and appoint a Special Counsel who can protect these American heroes. Congress must do its job and demand that the next Special Counsel has the background, experience and expertise demanded under the Whistleblower Protection Act."
UPDATE: GOVEXEC.COM IS NOW REPORTING THAT THE WHITE HOUSE FORCED BLOCH OUT.
GovernmentExecutive.com is reporting the Office of Special Counsel chief Scott Bloch has submitted his resignation to President Bush, effective January 5th. Although Mr. Bloch probably would not have lasted long under a new administration (his 5 year term ends in January), there was no replacement selected and he may have been able to serve past his term.
Bloch has had more than his share of issues while attempting to lead the independent agency charged with investigating federal government whistleblower complaints. He has dealt with whistleblower complaints against his agency, and an FBI Investigation into allegations that he hired the “Geek Squad” to wipe agency computers clean.
Back in May I blogged about the disgrace that has become the Office of Special Counsel. At that time the head of the OSC, Scott Bloch, had his home and office raided by FBI agents in an obstruction of justice probe.
Now, more trouble is brewing at OSC. On Saturday, Bloch’s Deputy Special Counsel Jim Byrne resigned, and in his resignation letter skewered Bloch, saying:
"Upon my departure, I am obligated to note that the mission, independence, and very existence of the Office of Special Counsel are–and shall remain–at risk unless and until this agency is afforded a presidentially appointed, senate confirmed leader who is capable of putting OSC’s mission and OSC’s people ahead of political agendas and personal vendettas."
NPR also has a related story, reporting that President Bush has so far refused fire Bloch, although he has been counseled to do so by senior advisers.
Many MSM sources (such as the New York Times and CNN)and blogs (like Talk Left) are now reporting that the Office of Special Counsel was raided by the FBI today, along with the home of agency head Scott Bloch. Bloch and his agency are under investigation for obstruction of justice stemming from an ongoing probe in which Bloch and other managers at the OSC — the agency responsible for investigating federal whistleblower complaints — are suspected of retaliating against whistleblowers in that agency.
Mr. Bloch has been under investigation since 2005, and today’s events are in no doubt related to the fact that he used a private computer service company (Geeks on Call) to erase his personal and office computers during the time of the investigation.