Personal e-mail sparks fire between Davis, Bloch

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee workforce subcommittee hearing July 12 erupted into acrimonious exchanges among Republicans, led by committee ranking member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Office of Special Counsel head Scott Bloch. The purpose of the oversight hearing was to review the operations of OSC and the Merit Systems Protection Board, which are seeking a five-year reauthorization.

But for more than two hours, a defiant Bloch was under relentless fire, largely from Republicans, for his office’s handling of an investigation of General Services Administration Administrator Lurita Doan. She was accused earlier this year of violating the Hatch Act during a meeting at GSA with other Republican political appointees.

During questioning, Davis said OSC officials leaked a draft report on the Doan case to the press and made disparaging remarks about her at an informal gathering on the Hill, clearly indicating that OSC was biased about the matter.

Bloch denied that his office leaked the draft report, adding that he suspects GSA divulged it. He added that he had no knowledge of the staff members’ alleged remarks, but added, “I’m not going to attack employees for free expression.”

Then came the bombshell. Davis released an e-mail message from Bloch’s private America Online account that was “sent to a number of folks — some of whom, by the way, were kind enough to forward it to me.”

In the e-mail message, dated June 19, 11:52 a.m., Bloch compared Doan’s testimony in the OSC investigation to that of former President Clinton in his grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case. He also accused Davis of acting like Doan’s defense counsel and saying “reckless things about OSC’s report and calling for my resignation. Weird Kabuki theatre, all this.”

In the same e-mail message, Bloch predicted what would happen at yesterday’s hearing: “I am going to show up for my reauthorization hearing on July 12, and Davis will either show up as ranking member of the larger committee or have Cong. [sic] Mica do his dirty work of raking me over the coals. We may have something to say about that.”

In rancorous exchanges, Davis, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) accused Bloch of using government equipment to send personal e-mail messages during office hours about official agency business, a violation of federal rules on e-mail use. Mica called the “dirty work” reference the “ultimate insult.”

In response, Bloch called the release of the e-mail message “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 press the issue, Bloch said, “If you want to exchange personal attacks, maybe we should go outside.”

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.”

Bloch, whose office is responsible for protecting federal employees’ rights, is under investigation by the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general for allegations that he retaliated against employees who complained about office policies, issued an illegal gag order, abused his hiring authority and politicized his office, among other claims.

In the hearing, he called those charges “reckless, false and slanderous.”

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