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Ron Johnson: We’re tracking down abuse allegations in Social Security agency

By   /   June 13, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 14 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says his Senate committee will continue to look into allegations of government bureaucrats retaliating against whistleblowers.

The Oshkosh Republican, chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on Monday addressed the growing scandal inside Social Security disability claims review offices. Johnson joined Wisconsin Watchdog on “Madison in the Morning” on NewsTalk 1310 WIBA.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Watchdog has learned from sources that agents from an outside region of SSA’s Office of the Inspector General are launching an investigation into the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review following Wisconsin Watchdog’s latest report on allegations of sexual harassment, bribery and nepotism at the office.

“Let’s first talk about how rampant retaliation against whistleblowers in the federal government is,” Johnson said.  “You have these massive bureaucracies and you see these abuses like with the VA (Veterans Affairs) in Tomah or now with the SSA.”

AP file photo

SEEKING ANSWERS: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, says the Senate committee he chairs continues to look into allegations of misconduct and retaliation against whistleblowers at the Social Security Administration.

The senator referenced the scandal-plagued Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Homeland Security Committee recently conducted a field hearing in Tomah, as it released a 359-page report detailing allegations of abuse, misconduct and widespread retaliation at the hospital.

“You’ve got these massive bureaucracies, they don’t work well, they’re not effective, there’s potential favoritism and abuse of the system,” Johnson added. “And then when people come forward to report it their careers are crushed, they’re retaliated against, even though we literally have laws in place for over 100 years protecting the whistleblowers.”

Multiple employees at ODAR operations in Madison and Milwaukee tell Wisconsin Watchdog they have been harassed, intimidated and retaliated against for blowing the whistle on misconduct. Many of them have taken their complaints to the Senate committee.

“There is a culture of corruption and cover-up, and that goes all the way to the top,” said an ODAR employee with knowledge of the situation told Wisconsin Watchdog in a story published Friday. The staff member spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Wisconsin Watchdog has obtained internal documents showing what employees have described as “highly inappropriate” comments Madison ODAR Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss has made about claimants appearing before him.

RELATED: ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office

In his “Initial Observations,” part of the official hearing notes, Pleuss described claimants’ as “attractive,” “buxom,” “innocent”-looking, according to the records.

“Very black, African looking (female),” the ALJ wrote, and parenthetically he added, “(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”

In one document, Pleuss wrote, “I’ll pay this lady when hell freezes over!”

The employee who spoke to Wisconsin Watchdog on condition of anonymity said Pleuss has acquired a reputation as “being sexually inappropriate.”

“It truly has become a national running joke,” the staff member said.

But there is nothing funny about the charge by those familiar with the administrative law judge and the “toxic environment” of the Madison office, that Pleuss has approved or rejected disability claims based on “how sexy he thought the claimant was,” the employee said.

The insider claims “sexual harassment of staff is pervasive and ongoing” in the Madison office. Other sources have told Wisconsin Watchdog as much.

Sources allege the office director and another top supervisor have led a workplace replete with bribery, nepotism and punishment for those who don’t go along with the “system.”

Now Wisconsin Watchdog has learned that Office of Inspector General agents have opened an investigation into the Madison office, particularly focusing on Pleuss,  Laura Hodorowicz, director of the Madison ODAR operations, and Wayne Gentz, a group supervisor considered to be a Hodorowicz ally.

One source with knowledge of the situation says the OIG agents, from outside the Chicago regional operations that include Milwaukee and Madison, will perform an audit of the Madison office.

Andrew M. Cannarsa, of the OIG’s communications division, said he could not “confirm the existence of, or comment on, any specific allegations we have received or investigations we may be conducting, per the Privacy Act of 1974 and SSA regulations.”

Johnson urged ODAR employees with information concerning waste, fraud and abuse to contact the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee website for whistleblowers.

Visit the website here.

“We’re putting it up and more government employees are availing themselves,” the senator said. “So you can actually take the first step at solving any problem in the federal government, which is shining some light on the situation so the agencies and departments admit that they have a problem and are not allowed to retaliate against the courageous whistleblowers that come forward.”

Wisconsin Watchdog’s Benjamin O’Connell contributed to this story.

Part of 61 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’
  59. Social Security whistleblower calls out agency, media in receiving award from journalists
  60. SSA whistleblowers ask, where’s the justice?
  61. Probes into troubled Social Security offices crawling along

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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.