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Social Security whistleblower placed on administrative leave

By   /   May 6, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 4 of 58 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The federal employee who blew the whistle on problems at the Social Security Administration’s disability review office has been placed on administrative leave.

Ron Klym, a senior legal assistant for the Milwaukee Office of Adjudication and Review, tells Wisconsin Watchdog he was escorted out of the office Thursday and told that he would not be able to return pending review.

Klym says he was told by a supervisor during a meeting that the agency is not happy that he went to Wisconsin Watchdog with his allegations of misconduct, incompetence, and retaliation. He was informed of the decision by Chief Administrative Law Judge Christopher Messina.

“Rather than succumb to carrying out dubious directives ordered by the supervisor who managed the documents where the appeals languished,” Klym said he blew the whistle to the press and to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh. “My repeated inquiries were ignored and every attempt to contact the agency about the problems were stifled” by a supervisor.

Watchdog.org file photo

GOVERNMENT REPRISAL? Ron Klym, a Social Security Administration employee, says he is being punished for bringing to light his allegations of incompetence and misconduct at the Milwaukee disability appeals office.

A spokesman from the Social Security Administration’s Chicago region did not respond to a request for comment.

Klym detailed his allegations in a Wisconsin Watchdog special investigation earlier this week. The federal employee, who has worked for SSA for 16 years, said he is being retaliated against for going to management, then lawmakers, and finally Wisconsin Watchdog with documents showing extremely long wait times for applicants.

In portions of northeast Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, claimants have waited more than 900 days for the appeals process to conclude.

Beyond the delays is what Klym calls the “shell game,” the wholesale transferring of cases to other parts of the country by administrators to make the Milwaukee office’s numbers look better than they are.

Doug Nguyen, communications director for the Social Security Administration Chicago region, a six-state region that includes Milwaukee, earlier this week said the agency acknowledges that Milwaukee ODAR has a “high average processing time for disability appeal hearings, and we are working to address the issue.”

“The Social Security disability program is an important resource for people with disabilities, and we work tirelessly every day to provide the best service possible,” he said.

Nguyen said he could not speak to Klym’s other allegations because they are personnel matters.

RELATED: Social Security disability program has plenty of problems elsewhere

Klym said he has paid the price for blowing the whistle.

Emails show the legal assistant was expected to carry a greater workload than his colleagues. He was assigned additional work and given what he described as unreasonable case deadlines in the wake of his complaints to management.

“(I)t appears Mr. Pelot is in his actions and directives, retaliating against an employee who contacted a member of the United States Senate,” Klym wrote to in a letter to Deborah Giesen, regional attorney at the Social Security Administration in Chicago. Klym referred to Trevor Pelot, supervisor of the Milwaukee ODAR office.

“As I am the employee who made allegations with regards to over 500 civil rights violations, under Trevor Pelot’s direction of dockets in Milwaukee, retaliatory action is quite conceivable,” Klym wrote.

Reached at the Milwaukee office Monday, Pelot referred Wisconsin Watchdog’s questions to SSA public affairs officials.

Pelot, whose name is on the backlog reports and the case transfers, has been promoted to office director. He began his new post on Monday, according to Klym.

Klym said he believes the promotion was a reward for artificially improving the Milwaukee office’s disposition rates.

Klym said Pelot conducted an impromptu performance review of him not long after Wisconsin Watchdog reached out to the office.

Klym has previously been suspended for alleged conduct issues, including 10 days last September for destruction of agency property. He was accused of breaking his workstation keyboard. Klym said the equipment fell onto the floor and broke apart.

He said within 18 hours of his email to the SSA attorney about the case backlogs, two inspector general officers “were investigating me over a broken computer.”

Klym was at home in his pool when the agents came calling.

“They took me out of my pool and asked me questions for an hour and a half, and they requested to search my apartment,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is looking into the allegations, according to a committee staff member.

During what he described as an exit interview with Pelot, Klym said he tore up the supervisor’s review.

“He said that I had violated the public trust” by going to Wisconsin Watchdog with the allegations, Klym said. “He rolled out a string of platitudes about public service and trust. He knew the buttons he was pushing.”

When he took the position as chief administrative law judge, Messina admonished staff about what he described as a “toxic work environment” in the Milwaukee office, Klym said. Messina also told Milwaukee staff that they were at least 3 ½ years behind the average ODAR office in training.

SSA currently is investigating three separate claims of a hostile work environment filed by Klym, including a complaint of a supervisor’s alleged racial slur and inappropriate sexual comments.

Part of 58 in the series Deadly Delays
  1. Deadly Delay: Whistleblower alleges misconduct, incompetence in Social Security office
  2. Johnson seeks answers to Social Security whistleblower’s charges
  3. Social Security disability program has plenty of problems elsewhere
  4. Social Security whistleblower placed on administrative leave
  5. Social Security disability agency has history of punishing whistleblowers
  6. Senator to Social Security Administration official: ‘I would say the system is rigged’
  7. Whistleblower: ‘I want to do my work without fear of retaliation’
  8. Social Security whistleblowers ‘coming out of the woodwork’
  9. Social Security whistleblower suspended after going public with complaints
  10. Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public
  11. Social Security whistleblower now faces firing
  12. Social Security officials not answering questions about whistleblower retaliation
  13. ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office
  14. Ron Johnson: We’re tracking down abuse allegations in Social Security agency
  15. Senate committee presses for answers from troubled Social Security Administration
  16. Sources: Social Security judge suspended in wake of Madison scandal
  17. Attorney seeks appeal of decisions by Social Security judge accused of ‘sexy’ comments
  18. Social Security appeals judge pleads guilty to retaliation charge
  19. More retaliation despite investigation, Social Security office sources say
  20. Openly gay whistleblower at Social Security office claims intimidation, retaliation
  21. Wheels of justice turn frustratingly slow for Social Security whistleblowers
  22. Baldwin joins Johnson in calling for ‘immediate action’ on Social Security misconduct claims
  23. Documents: Social Security judge wrote claimant was ‘rode hard and put away wet’
  24. Social Security judge investigated for harassment heading back to hearings
  25. Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step aside, sources say
  26. Whistleblower at scandal-plagued Social Security office seeks restraining order against manager
  27. Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office
  28. Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated
  29. Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate
  30. Social Security Administration fires whistleblower
  31. Who is protecting Social Security whistleblowers?
  32. Sources: Social Security judge accused of racial, sexual remarks removed from hearings
  33. Social Security office director removed from Madison facility, sources say
  34. Senate committee probe into Social Security whistleblower retaliation continues
  35. Madison Social Security office like ‘giant dysfunctional family,’ source says
  36. Damage spreads at scandal-plagued Social Security office
  37. Fired Social Security whistleblower gets no help from federal whistleblower protector
  38. One month later, Social Security whistleblower still without job, pay, answers
  39. Federal agents stepping up investigation into troubled Social Security offices
  40. Investigation into troubled Social Security offices in a ‘holding pattern’
  41. Recent weeks bring shake-up at scandal-plagued Social Security offices
  42. Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters
  43. Social Security chief judge retiring amid cloud of scandal
  44. Troubled Social Security disability claims agency promotes ‘positive organization culture’
  45. Senate inquiry into scandal-plagued Social Security offices plods along
  46. Social Security whistleblower: ‘Everything has been compromised’
  47. Sources: Social Security judge accused of sexual harassment removed from Madison office
  48. Fired Social Security whistleblower won’t be taking whistleblower protection training
  49. Letter: Social Security judge under fire granted power to decide
  50. Sources: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires
  51. Johnson seeks GAO review of alleged Social Security ‘shell game’
  52. Social Security judge demanded $65,000 expanded bathrooms
  53. Investigation finds abuse, law-breaking, no retaliation at Madison Social Security office
  54. Report: Social Security managers gambled, watched Packers at Lambeau on taxpayer dime
  55. Inspector General releases major findings of probe into troubled Social Security office
  56. Social Security whistleblower waiting for answers in privacy breach case
  57. A whistleblower’s story: Paying the price for shining a light
  58. Fired SSA employee featured in Watchdog investigation is ‘Whistleblower of the Year’

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.