In early October, five Democratic members of Congress called on President Bush to "take the necessary action" in regards to Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel. Bloch continues to refuse "to enforce anti-discrimination protections for federal workers [which] contradicts Bush administration policy to uphold former President Clinton's executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation," the Washington Blade recently reported. The letter to the president was signed by gay House members Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), along with Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and George Miller (D-Calif.).
Who is Scott Bloch? Does he have an anti-gay agenda? And how did he wind up as head of the Office of Special Counsel?
Bloch hadn't received much in the way of media scrutiny when he first took over the Office of Special Counsel in January of this year and, he recently admitted during a speech at his alma mater, the University of Kansas, he really didn't know much about the job when he was nominated. That didn't stop Bloch from getting embroiled in an on-the-job controversy immediately after he took charge of the Office, when he announced that he would review a 1978 law protecting employees and job applicants from being terminated for issues unrelated to their job.
If Bloch's efforts were to prevail, federal employees would no longer have "recourse... if they are fired or demoted simply for being gay," the Federal Times reported. According to the Chicago Tribune's T. Shawn Taylor, "While there is no overarching federal law that protects private-sector employees from sexual-orientation discrimination, it has been understood since the Reagan era that federal employees are protected."
Bloch also ordered the agency -- which investigates and prosecutes federal employees' and job applicants' claims of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against whistleblowers -- to remove from its complaint forms and scrub from its Web site references to sexual orientation. (The head of the OSC is appointed for a fixed five-year term and, according to the Washington Blade, cannot be removed "unless it can be shown that he or she engages in improper conduct or violates the law.")
"People confuse conduct and sexual orientation as the same thing, and I don't think they are," Bloch told the Federal Times in an early-March interview.
"When you're interpreting a statute, you have to be very careful to interpret strictly according to how it's written and not get into loose interpretations," he said. "Someone may have jumped to the conclusion that conduct equals sexual orientation, but they are essentially very different. One is a class... and one is behavior."
Elaine Kaplan, President Clinton's special counsel, had scrupulously enforced the law.
In late March, after news of Bloch's efforts surfaced, a large group of Democratic legislators called on the President to repudiate the special counsel. Meanwhile, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a powerful Washington, D.C. conservative lobbying group, came to Bloch's defense: "Firing... Bloch or forcing him, by any means, to reverse his position on this critical matter would be an affront to pro-family Americans, and would be an unwarranted punishment of a public official for merely upholding the rule of law, and the proper limitations on government power."
It took only a few days before White House spokesman Ken Lisaius contradicted Bloch: "Long-standing federal policy prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation. President Bush expects federal agencies to enforce this policy and to ensure that all federal employees are protected from unfair discrimination at work."
By early April, the brouhaha created by Bloch's actions seemed to be resolved. He was forced to issue a statement signifying that gay and lesbian workers would continue to be protected by the 1978 law.
But the October letter sent by Democratic Representatives indicated that Bloch had still "failed to restore language to the OSC Web site and training materials, which were removed earlier this year, stating that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in the federal workplace," according to the Washington Blade.
And in May, when administrators from the Social Security Administration began renegotiating its contract with the American Federation of Government Employees -- the union that represents thousands of federal government employees -- it appeared that Bloch's discriminatory vision for the federal workplace was going to dominate the proceedings as the SSA was proposing the removal of language protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to a report in the September 20 edition of GovExec.com, Witold Skwierczynski, the president of AFGE Council 220, charged the agency with proposing the elimination of a clause in its labor contract "that allows gay, lesbian and bisexual workers to file discrimination grievances."
Beseiged by protests from angry gays, and the Democratic National Committee after the article appeared, the Bush Administration flip-flopped and the agency withdrew its proposal late last month.
Up from Kansas
After graduation from the Law School at the University of Kansas, Scott Bloch was a partner in a Kansas law firm specializing in civil rights law, employment law and legal ethics. He comes to the special counsel's office after a stint as deputy director of the Justice Department's Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives. The Washington Blade pointed out that he is "a devout Catholic and staunch social conservative" who revealed on a Senate disclosure form that he had been the former Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute, a right wing California-based think tank that vigorously opposes the gay rights movement.
Scott Bloch was born in New York City, where his father Walter wrote for Broadway and television programs, the Lawrence Journal-World -- the hometown newspaper of the University of Kansas -- pointed out in an April 2002 profile. At age 3, Bloch moved to Los Angeles where his father continued writing for television, including such programs as "Gilligan's Island," "Hawaii Five-O," "Bonanza," and "The Flintstones."
Bloch's grandfather, Albert, a man of Jewish descent, was a noted abstract expressionist painter. Albert Bloch was "the only American member of 'Der Blaue Reiter,' (The Blue Rider), Germany's most important group of artists in the 20th century," Dan Hayes wrote in a January 1997 article. An American Art Review piece by University of Kansas Art Professor David Cateforis pointed out that Albert Bloch's paintings had religious themes, with striking renderings of biblical figures, including Jesus Christ and showed strong Christian leanings throughout his painting career. Albert Bloch became head of the department of drawing and painting at KU, where he taught from 1923 to 1947, and worked in Lawrence until his death in 1961.
At some point, Bloch's father changed his last name to Black for "professional reasons." The Washington Blade speculated that the change may have "occurred in the 1950s, during the height of the Hollywood 'red scare.'" By that time Sen. McCarthy's investigations had spread to Hollywood's film industry, and "anti-Semitism, as well as prejudice against perceived membership in liberal and 'leftist' groups, became a factor that prompted some writers and film industry workers to change their names to hide their Jewish ancestry." At age seventeen, Scott changed his name back to Bloch.
While at the University of Kansas, Bloch enrolled in the experimental Integrated Humanities Program -- a controversial curriculum established in 1971 to counter the anti-war and women's movements and a growing demand for greater multiculturalism on campus. Organized by three conservative English Department Professors, Dennis Quinn, John Senior, and Franklyn Nelick, the program was geared toward teaching the classics, and had a strong Catholic bent.
In a telephone interview, Professor Quinn insisted that the project "was apolitical," although he admitted that "we talked about everything under the sun." Some critics of the program "alleged that we were making Roman Catholics out of everyone," Prof. Quinn said. "We talked about religions, but we had no specific point of view."
(Disclosure: Nearly thirty-five years ago, I was enrolled at the University of Kansas in Professor Quinn's "Seventeenth Century Minor Poets," a class that was not part of the IHP.)
The IHP ended in 1979 amidst a swirl of charges regarding proselytizing and "cult-like" behavior. Professor Quinn, who has kept in contact with Bloch over the years, told me he believed "that sometime during the program he [Bloch] converted [from Judaism] to Catholicism," a development which "didn't surprise" him. Although he hadn't heard about the recent dustup in Washington over Bloch's recent activities, Professor Quinn allowed that Bloch is "brash, not in an offensive way, but he wasn't afraid to say what he thought. And, he had strong views. He may," the professor added, "be just a little imprudent."
Up until its open declaration of war against same-sex marriage visa via its support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the Bush Administration appeared, if not gay-friendly at least neutral on the issue -- going so far as to appoint several gays and lesbians to government posts. The two main conservative gay advocacy organizations, the twenty-five year-old Log Cabin Republicans, and the newer alliance of gay and straight GOPers, the Republican Unity Coalition, were early ardent Bush supporters.
A series of administration initiatives, however, belie even that initial impression: a marriage-promotion initiative explicitly excluding gay and lesbian couples; abstinence-only sex education projects ignoring information about AIDS prevention; attacks on gay organizations promoting safe sex; and government money earmarked for faith-based organizations that have a history of discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in their hiring practices.
According to the Washington Blade, Bloch has hired at least two religious conservatives "and offered the No. 2 post at the OSC to a college professor from Wyoming who helped form an anti-gay campus group," who turned him down.
Since this administration doesn't cotton to mavericks, Scott Bloch must have figured he was working well within the Team Bush playbook. That he has been publicly rebuked and that the administration has been forced to restate it support for non-discriminatory practices in federal workplaces is more an indicator that Bush watchers are on the job rather than a sign of how gay-friendly this administration is.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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