By Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON – The Special Counsel charged with protecting federal employees in the workplace has claimed that he does not have the legal authority to address discrimination based on sexual orientation. That interpretation is at odds with more than two decades of practice within the agency. Log Cabin Republicans have called upon him to resign.
The US Office of the Special Counsel has the responsibility of defending 1.7 million federal employees from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. Scott J. Bloch was confirmed by the US Senate to a five-year term that began on Jan. 5, 2004.
During the confirmation process the social conservative testified that he would protect the rights of gay federal employees, as has been standard practice since 1978. But only weeks after being sworn in, Bloch began to take a series of actions that have riled federal employees and have led some to believe that he is on an anti-gay crusade within the agency.
In February 2004, Federal GLOBE, the umbrella group of LGBT federal employee organizations, charged that the OSC had “removed references to sexual orientation from its basic brochure, its complaint form, a two-page flyer entitled ‘Your Rights as a Federal Employee,’ and a set of training slides.” It called the actions “political pandering to the conservative right” that sent “a chilling message” to gay federal employees.
Gay congressional allies challenged Bloch’s actions, and in April 2004 the White House released a statement saying, “Longstanding federal policy prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation….President Bush expects federal agencies to enforce this policy and ensure that all federal employees are protected from unfair discrimination at work.”
Faced with this opposition, Bloch appeared to backtrack. But soon Bloch was conducting a wholesale reorganization of the agency. He told key Washington employees they had ten days to accept being reassigned to distant regional offices or resign. Most saw the reorganization as an attempt to purge the agency and insert ideologues.
In a Senate oversight hearing May 24, Bloch made the startling statement that he lacks the legal authority to protect employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
He acknowledged that the Bush administration’s April 2004 statement on sexual orientation “is binding on me, but it is not something I can prosecute in my agency….I am limited by the enforcement statutes that you [Congress] give me.”
When asked by Michigan Sen. Carl Levin if he would recommend Congress enact legislation to cover sexual orientation, Bloch declined to do so.
“Bloch is snubbing 20 years of bipartisan interpretation of the law. A statute in place since the late 1970s has protected federal workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
Log Cabin Republicans called for his resignation. “Scott Bloch has made it clear that he is not enforcing the law and is openly defying the President, accordingly he should resign immediately,” said Chris Barron, LCR’s political director.