OPM IG: Did Special Counsel Bloch improperly delete files?

Scott Bloch, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), is no stranger to controversy about the use of his office computer.

In July, House Republicans accused Bloch of using his office PC — government equipment — to send personal e-mail messages during office hours about official OSC business, a violation of federal rules on e-mail use. They said the messages, which Bloch sent via his America Online account, disparaged Republicans who have criticized his handling of an investigation of General Services Administration Administrator Lurita Doan for alleged violations of the Hatch Act.

Now Bloch is facing charges that he improperly erased all of the files on the PC and hired a commercial company that provides on-site computer services to do the job, according to a published report. The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general has been investigating Bloch for two years over allegations that he retaliated against OSC employees who complained about office policies, abused his hiring authority and politicized his office, among other claims.

According to a Nov. 29 Wall Street Journal article, OPM investigators recently discovered that Bloch used an agency credit card to pay Geeks on Call $1,149 to clean his computer’s hard disk. He also directed technicians to erase the hard disks on two laptop PCs in the office, the article states. Investigators are looking into whether Bloch’s actions were part of a cover-up, the Journal reported.

In a statement provided to Federal Computer Week, Bloch said the deleted files were from the internal drive of his laptop "and did not include my official work files and e-mail, which are stored on the office network hard drives."

"After the laptop hard drive had crashed, which at the time I believed could have been caused by a virus, I wanted to protect my personal files," he said. "These included private personal and medical information, privileged communications with my personal attorney, my son’s pictures from his tours in Iraq, Christmas lists, etc. They were moved to a flash drive, and the hard drive cleaned to remove any trace of a virus."

He added: "None of this is relevant to the investigation, nor has OPM IG informed me of any such allegations. Further, I am concerned that individuals close to the investigation leaked a document related to the computer maintenance with an intent to cast suspicion on me with no proof of any wrongdoing.”

In the earlier dustup over Bloch’s computer, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, publicly released an e-mail message sent June 19 from Bloch’s AOL account. The message ridicules Davis as acting like Doan’s defense counsel in Bloch’s ongoing investigation of Doan and other White House officials, including Karl Rove, former adviser to Bush, for possible Hatch Act violations. The Hatch Act restricts partisan political activity by government officials.

Bloch called Davis' release of the e-mail message an "invasion of his privacy" and a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Davis was on official travel this week and unavailable for immediate comment, said David Marin, a spokesman for Davis. But “certainly, we’re going to have something to say about” the latest allegations concerning Bloch when Davis returns next week, Marin said.

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