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Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated

By   /   August 15, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 28 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – In the wake of allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers at a scandal-plagued Social Security Administration office, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is warning the agency that such actions will not be tolerated by his Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In a letter Monday to SSA’s acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, wrote that the “apparent attempt to identify and possibly prevent employees from communicating with Congress is unacceptable and alarming, given your assurances to the committee – as recently as last week – that SSA does not tolerate whistleblower retaliation.”

“I ask that you immediately direct all SSA officials in the leadership chain of command for Madison (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review) hearing office to cease all attempts to identify officials who may be providing information to Congress or the Office of Inspector General, as well as any other potential retaliatory actions,” wrote Johnson, chairman of the Senate committee.

“The committee will not tolerate any efforts silence or retaliate against SSA whistleblowers.”

AP file photo

‘UNACCEPTABLE AND ALARMING’: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in a letter to the Social Security Administration said retaliation against whistleblowers at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will not be tolerated.

Johnson’s letter follows an incident Friday when Madison ODAR manager and whistleblower Deborah Holland was placed on administrative leave just hours after going public with more allegations of misconduct and retaliation in the SSA system.

Holland was walked out of her office by two armed security guards, at the request of the local ODAR’s chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.

Meachum told the long-time SSA employee she is being removed from her management position and stripped of all supervisory duties and placed on administrative leave for the rest of day. Holland is being made a project manager for the Chicago Region 5 office, working under the same administrators she has testified against and who, she claims, have protected Madison Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz and staff manager Wayne Gentz.

“This isn’t just retaliation against me … it’s a clear ploy to protect Wayne (Gentz) when he appears in court a week from today,” Holland told Wisconsin Watchdog. “They want him to say that I was removed so he can use that in his defense.”

On Thursday, Holland sought and received a temporary restraining order against Gentz. He has a “lengthy history of aggressive” and threatening behavior toward ODAR staff members, Holland and other whistleblowers told Wisconsin Watchdog. Some of those accusations are documented in a report to SSA’s Office of Inspector General.

ODAR employees have taken their complaints of sexual harassment, corruption, and intimidation to the OIG and the Senate committee. In doing so, they have been officially designated government whistleblowers and afforded all of the protections therein.

“Since then, it appears that the leadership in the Madison office has attempted to prevent further disclosures and identify employees who may be sharing information with Congress or the Office of the Inspector General,” Johnson wrote to the acting commissioner.

Managers, including Holland, received an email from Meachum asking who leaked information she considered confidential to the press.

“Since our meeting on August 9th, did any of you share any of this information with someone outside the Madison team?” Meachum wrote. “Again, I am talking specifically about the discussion we had Tuesday afternoon about Judge Pleuss and his cases. Please respond immediately – yes or no.”

Meachum referred to Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, who was found to have written sexual and racial comments about claimants and who is alleged to have sexually harassed staff members for years.

Meachum, while demanding Holland leave the Madison office Friday, said she “can’t always trust in (Holland’s) ability to keep sensitive information confidential.” She said she knows Holland claims to be a whistleblower. The conversation was recorded, and Holland is indeed a whistleblower.

“Federal law protects the right of all federal employees to provide information to Congress,” Johnson wrote. “Specifically, the law states that ‘the right of employees, individually or collectively, to petition Congress or a member of Congress, or to furnish information to either house of Congress, or to a committee or member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.’”

“SSA employees have the right to talk to Congress and to provide Congress with information without fear of retaliation or questions about their communications,” Johnson added.

Johnson also demands that the acting commissioner “produce all documents and communications concerning the administrative leave and other personnel actions against managers in the ODAR hearing office taken on or about August 12, 2016.”

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.