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Did a U.S. Senator Block Additional Funding for Whistleblower Protection as Payback?

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

A few days ago, it was revealed that U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) objected to, and got removed, a provision in the shutdown deal legislation that would have funded the Office of Special Counsel, the nation’s top federal whistelblower defender, at the levels proposed by the White House, $20.6M (a figure which itself has been deemed “conservative” to address whistleblower case backlogs).

What motivated Sen. Johanns to do this? One possible reason: payback for having been inartfully named in a January 2011 OSC report on inappropriate political activities by Bush Administration officials, around the 2006 election period. Johanns was the Agriculture Secretary at the time.

According to GovExec.com,

OSC faulted travel by Johanns to events with GOP candidates ahead of the 2006 election. It said several events just before the elections that the Agriculture Department concluded were official business and paid for with federal funds were clearly political and should have been funded by the campaigns.

One such event was a Johanns appearance with former Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to tout an expanded Forest Service facility in Albuquerque, N.M.

The report also cited instances where Agriculture deemed events political, such as an appearance by Johanns with then-Rep. Mark Kennedy in Minnesota- who was running for the Senate-where OSC said the agency violated the Hatch Act by failing to receive reimbursement.

Johanns objected to the report and provided documentation, which prompted a partial correction by OSC (updated versions of the report could not be accessed on OSC’s website at the time of publication update: cached version available here).

OSC currently faces record-high levels of whistleblower retaliation complaints and disclosures. In the past four years, OSC’s caseload jumped 29 percent while its budget increases went up only 6 percent.

The return on the investment speaks for itself:

OSC does not just spend taxpayers’ money; it returns substantial sums to the Federal government by pressing for corrective action to remedy waste and fraud. Since 2009, OSC calculates at least $11.4 million has either been directly returned to, or saved by, the government as a result of whistleblower disclosures to our agency. That figure, while impressive, does not reflect the full benefit of OSC’s work: By pursuing whistleblower disclosures, the agency has saved the government hundreds of millions of dollars by preventing wasteful practices and disasters from occurring or recurring.

It should be noted that OSC’s report was issued before the current Special Counsel, Carolyn Lerner, took office, in June 2011.
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Are Good Government Groups Quick to Praise the New Special Counsel?

10:42 pm in Uncategorized by MSPB Watch

Is it too soon to say things like:

With this remarkable record and the extraordinary leadership of Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, we can expect that as disclosures continue to skyrocket and the caseload grows, [the Office of Special Counsel] will handle their investigations and litigation with utmost efficiency and integrity.

As the Project on Government Oversight did just this past week, or:

The track record under the helm of Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, who assumed office in 2011, is equally as unprecedented as its increased caseload and having increased productivity by over 50% in the past few years[.]

As the Government Accountability Project did a few days ago?

Consider that there are a few grumbles that have arisen so far concerning OSC’s performance:

Let me be clear: OSC deserves credit for the evident turnaround since the Scott Bloch era. Persistent underfunding continues, in part because the groups mentioned above have not pushed for it before. But this post is not so much about OSC’s performance today, as it is about grounding laudatory statements (and the propensity to make them) with facts. The groups above have a history of jumping to award OSC leadership when, frankly, it did not deserve it. The pattern may be repeating itself here. Facts matter, and the jury is still out.