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Social Security whistleblower now faces firing

By   /   May 27, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 11 of 58 in the series Deadly Delays

MILWAUKEE – Ron Klym spoke out publicly, alleging incompetence, misconduct and retaliation in the federal government office where he has worked for 16 years.

Doing so might just cost him his job.

On Thursday, less than a month after Klym’s accounts were featured in a Watchdog.org special investigation, the senior case technician at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review was forced to sign his own employment death warrant.

Klym said he was called into the office of Chief Administrative Law Judge Christopher Messina.

“He had a stack of papers in front of him. I said, ‘Well, it looks like a disciplinary action. Can I speak to my union rep? He said, ‘This is not a disciplinary action. This is a proposal to terminate. I need you to sign off on this,” Klym said.

Watchdog.org file photo

COST OF WHISTLEBLOWING? Ron Klym faces being fired, he says, for blowing the whistle on alleged bad activity at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

The veteran employee of the Social Security Administration office that handles disability claim appeals was placed on administrative leave. He was told that Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge Sherry Thompson would make the final decision on the proposal within the coming weeks.

Klym, who claims he has endured several incidents of supervisor-driven retaliation since taking his complaints to federal authorities, said he wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s events.

“Frankly, this is the epitome of how they do business,” he said.

Earlier this month, Klym detailed the Milwaukee office’s growing backlog of cases. Wisconsin Watchdog obtained records of some of the more lengthy delays.

Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days to dispose of. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.

“We had two clients who stopped in the office yesterday wondering what’s going on, and they have been waiting for 21 months,” Jessica Bray, partner at Upper Michigan Law in Escanaba, Mich., said in the May 4 investigative piece. Her colleague handled the noted cases that topped 1,000 days. “I sent a letter to the Milwaukee office, but I don’t think it’s going to do any good. Those cases haven’t even been assigned yet.”

In 2011, the inventory for the Milwaukee region’s disability claims appeals office was at approximately 2,200 cases; today it’s running at about 12,000, Klym said.

RELATED: Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public

Doug Nguyen, communications director for the Social Security Administration Chicago region, a six-state region that includes Milwaukee, 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.”

Nguyen has said he cannot comment on personnel matters.

More problematic is what Klym calls the administrative “shell game.” He said the Milwaukee office’s case disposition numbers have at times drastically improved because managers in the chain have dumped off scores of cases to other regional offices.

“They are wholesale shipping cases out,” the senior legal assistant said. The impression is that the offices are performing at a better rate than they actually are. “When you ship 1,000 cases to somewhere else, then you do an audit, it looks better.”

At least three other ODAR employees have confirmed Klym’s account.

Now Messina is moving to have the whistleblower removed.

Klym said he is being charged with performance failures and conduct unbecoming a federal employee – all trumped up charges, he said.

The senior case technician said he is being held to a higher standard than his peers, required to meet increased production metrics. Those new standards, coincidentally, went into effect not long after he took his complaints to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last July, Klym said.

But he has documentation showing that his supervisor had rescinded the higher thresholds, noting that Klym’s previous workload – at as much as twice the output of his colleagues – was satisfactory.

He also has performance appraisals noting his exemplary performance in preparing cases.

Klym also faces being fired because he raised his voice and used “obscene” language during a discussion earlier this month with the ODAR office director, Trevor Pelot.

Klym said the discussion did get a little heated when Pelot told him that he had violated the public trust by taking his complaints about the office public.

“There is a definite retaliatory thing going on here,” he said. “I’m concerned that Mary and Ms. Keller may be next.”

Klym referred to Mary Brister, another employee at the Milwaukee office, and Celia Machelle Keller, a lead case technician at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

Brister, who went public with her complaints about the Milwaukee office, was suspended last week and she lost her tele-work privileges for a year. She claims management retaliated against her for telling her story to Wisconsin Watchdog.

Keller had Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General agents show up at her door this week, days after the whistleblower publicly claimed managers harassed and intimidated her after she testified in an office harassment case.

Klym, too, was interrogated by Inspector General agents at his home, some 18 hours after he contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, about the issues in the Milwaukee office.

He will remain in his position while he awaits the final judgment. But Klym is not allowed in the building.

“I’m in a difficult position,” he said. “I can’t enter the office, so how can I access documentation or speak with anybody to prove I am innocent?”

He said he plans to reach out to representatives on the Senate committee and the federal office charged with protecting whistleblowers.

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.