Buzz of the Week

Quixotic battles

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Scott Bloch has had a controversial four-year tenure as the head of the Office of Special Counsel. It is perhaps unusual that the person leading the office charged with protecting federal workers’ rights is under investigation for allegations that he wasn’t protective of his employees’ rights.

Add that situation to the recent OSC’s report on Lurita Doan, the General Services Administration’s administrator, who was accused this year of violating the Hatch Act during a meeting at GSA with other Republican political appointees. Bloch’s report determined that Doan had violated that law and he recommended that White House officials take disciplinary action against her.

For more than two hours, a defiant Bloch was under relentless fire, largely from Republicans, for his office’s handling of the Doan investigation.

Unfortunately for Bloch, he had sent an e-mail message to a friend — using an America Online account while he was at work — criticizing Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee’s ranking member. The friend to whom Bloch sent the e-mail message also was a friend of Davis’. Davis read the e-mail message at the hearing.

In the e-mail message, dated Tuesday, June 19, 2007, 11:52 a.m., Bloch referred to the Doan hearing last month and wrote, “It is Congressman Tom Davis, who has been acting like Doan’s defense counsel, saying reckless things about OSC’s report and calling for my resignation. Weird Kabuki theatre, all of this.”

Bloch argued that the release of the e-mail message was “an invasion of my privacy” and “an invasion of my first amendment rights. This is my personal life you’re talking about, not official business…let’s move on to something real.”
When Davis continued to emphasize the issue, Bloch said, “If you want to exchange personal attacks, maybe we should go outside,” which sent a ripple of shock through the hearing room.

Bloch quickly added: “That’s not a threat. Let’s discuss it outside.” He told the panel he would talk only about “business in our office and what we’re doing for the country.”

Political advice 101: In Washington, people should always choose their battles carefully, particularly if you are a Republican and you are picking a fight with the Republican on a committee responsible for your organization’s reauthorization.

And, as always, be careful what you put in an e-mail message to a friend. To paraphrase President Harry S. Truman, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

THE BUZZ CONTENDERS
#2: Problem solved
Sharing information — without sharing it with the enemy - has become the holy grail of military and intelligence agencies. But dramatic improvements in information sharing aren’t happening as quickly as many had hoped. Some industry partners have said, in effect, “Give us a chance to solve that problem for you.” Cisco Systems, EMC, Microsoft and three small companies — Liquid Machines, Swan Island Networks and Titus Labs — announced last week that by working together, the six companies can deliver the holy grail: a secure collaboration framework built from brand-name commercial products. Problem solved.

#3: Thin the herd
Leaders of the National Federation of Federal Employees said they will postpone filing an unfair labor complaint, at least until they meet with General Services Administration officials about employee background checks required for the government’s new identity card program. Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 requires that all federal employees undergo background checks before they receive new identity cards. Union leaders said their members are fearful that agencies could use the background checks to unfairly purge certain employees. Some see the imposition of background checks on federal employees with 25 or 30 years of service as a thinly disguised effort to, as one union leader put it, “thin the herd.”

#4: Help!
Tired of hearing from angry constituents, lawmakers blamed the State Department for failing to satisfy demand for passports during the peak summer travel season. Passport applications have hit the stratosphere, partly because of the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires Americans traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to carry passports. The Bush administration said it would delay enforcement of the passport requirement for at least six months. Officials at State said they need at least 500 more contractor employees with information technology and administrative support skills to handle the increased volume of passport applications.

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