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Madison Social Security office like ‘giant dysfunctional family,’ source says

By   /   August 30, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 35 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The Social Security disability claims office that has been the subject of widespread misconduct allegations has been rocked by workplace hostility and threats of violence, whistleblowers say.

Wisconsin Watchdog has obtained several internal documents noting multiple hostile work environment complaints and investigations over the past 18 months at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. But the problems, whistleblowers say, go back years.

One of the alleged repeated offenders is senior case technician Deborah Blum.

In one whistleblower’s report to federal agents, Blum is described as exhibiting a “pattern of unstable, volatile, aggressive behavior that completely disrupts productivity and creates a toxic environment.”

“Good people continue to leave the Madison Hearing Office because of this. Those that stay have become ill, extremely stressed, and ended up needing to take time off to get away from the chaos,” wrote former group manager Deborah Holland in the report to the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General.

More than two weeks ago, Holland was walked out of her office by two armed guards, placed on administrative leave, and stripped of her managerial duties. The actions came just hours after she went public with her allegations.

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HOSTILE WORKPLACE: Whistleblowers at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review have long complained about threats and open hostility at the federal facility. They say they have received no relief from managers.

As of Tuesday, Holland said she still has yet to be instructed on what her new duties are. She also had been knocked off the office’s internal network for much of the past couple days, although her name showed up as logged on early Monday. She believes someone else logged in using her name for reasons that are not entirely clear.

In January 2015, Holland wrote to her supervisors about an incident involving Blum.

“(O)ne of our employees (Blum) became verbally and physically aggressive to myself and another employee in the office,” she wrote in an email, noting parenthetically that “thankfully no one was physically struck but it came close.”

In the same email, Holland claimed staff were not protected by Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz, who is the subject of numerous corruption allegations at the Madison office.

Fellow whistleblower Celia Machelle Keller was asked to file an incident report regarding Blum’s conduct. Keller wrote that she was speaking with an administrative law judge who was nearing retirement. Keller said she was brought in by management to assist the judge in closing out his cases, and she was asked to do so because Blum had failed to perform the tasks.

“She then stood up and got aggressive,” Keller wrote in the email, dated Jan. 22, 2015.

“Deb Holland came in and said to Deb Blum that she could hear her screaming at me from the bathroom, at the time Laura was coming down the hallway yelling things at Deb Holland,” Keller wrote. “Deb Blum was being escorted to Laura’s office disrespecting Deb Holland all the way down the hallway and I heard Laura yelling at Deb Holland for asking if Deb Blum could be sent home on administrative leave, Deb Holland stating it is office policy, Laura then turns to her and says this is my office to run.”

Keller said the judge had to step in between Blum, who was confronting Keller.

“Deb Blum is a very aggressive person …Very hostile person, very negative person, very disrespectful person both to her co-workers and her supervisors. She makes this place a very hostile environment,” Keller wrote in the report.

Other Social Security Administration employees have offered the same assessment.

Hodorowicz ultimately determined she would not discipline either Blum or Keller. Keller still chafes at Hodorowicz’s suggestion that she did anything warranting discipline in the heated exchange and that Blum inexplicably escaped punishment.

Holland said Blum’s hostile approach has been a recurring theme for years. She recalled an incident around 2009 in which Blum “stood over an employee with her fist balled up.”

“I was afraid Blum was going to hit her,” Holland said.

Contacted Tuesday at the Madison ODAR facility, Blum said she could not comment and referred all questions to the SSA’s regional office in Chicago. The spokesman there repeatedly has said the agency cannot address internal personnel matters but that it takes allegations of misconduct very seriously.

Last summer, Blum became increasingly hostile following some trouble she and her adult son were having with the law, sources say.

Contributed photo

ONGOING PROBLEM: Whistleblower Deborah Holland says there have been too many incidents of openly hostile and threatening behavior at the Madison office to count.

Court documents show that the 53-year-old Janesville woman was found guilty in Rock County Court on charges of resisting arrest and obstructing an officer.

The incident appears to stem from criminal acts involving her son, Evan Douglas Blum, 24, also of Janesville. Evan Blum was found guilty of multiple felonies, including possession with intent to deliver between 2,500 and 10,000 grams of marijuana, adjudged delinquent possession of a firearm, and the sale/delivery/possession of a firearm silencer, according to online court documents. 

He was originally charged with five other felonies and misdemeanors in July 2015, with bond set at $75,500. Last month, Evan Blum was sentenced to 10 years in prison and several more years supervision on the three counts, each count concurrent, according to court records.

Holland said several Madison ODAR staff members approached her complaining about Blum’s conduct following the July 2015 arrests.

At one point, Holland said she picked up the phone to dial 911 when Blum became hostile in her office and refused to leave.

Yet, Holland said, her supervisors asked her how she could have better resolved particular exchanges with Blum.

Employees who begged their supervisors to do something about a person creating a hostile work environment were punished, while the perpetrators were protected, Holland and other Social Security Administration sources said.

Holland had had enough.

RELATED: Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office

Not long after she was reprimanded for her requests that something be done about Blum, Holland took her complaints to the Office of the Inspector General and other federal authorities.

Her report includes allegations of misconduct by several managers, administrative law judges, regional supervisors, and legal assistants. The document alleges that Blum:

*Has committed time and attendance fraud. “She signs in earlier than she arrives for duty and leaves before the end of her shift, but claims a full day work.”

*Continually offloads her work to others, and becomes volatile with them if they object.”

*Bullies employees to a degree that makes them afraid to come to work.”

The report also alleges that Blum has used “government time, equipment, and property to work on the legal defense of herself and her son.”

Earlier this month, Holland was granted a temporary harassment restraining order against her administrative peer, Wayne Gentz, according to online court documents. That order has since been dropped.

Holland alleges Gentz has a “lengthy history of aggressive behavior” toward her and ODAR staff members.

“I have worked with him for almost nine years. He owns firearms and he has threatened to bring them into the office and use them on employees,” Holland said. She has provided federal agents with emails and other documents that she says back her claims about Gentz’s threatening conduct. She provided an investigative document accusing Gentz of making a threat of violence against an employee who had filed a harassment complaint and was granted an Equal Employment Opportunity hearing. In another case, according to the document, Gentz made threatening comments about bringing in a knife and a gun to “use on” an ODAR employee he was angry at.

Gentz and Hodorwicz also like to pull out their “voodoo dolls” to make a point about what they’d like to do to “certain employees,” Holland wrote in her federal complaints.

“They use them to represent employees in the Madison office and regional office,” Holland wrote. “When I came back in October, (Wayne) had gotten a new doll that was clearly meant to represent me. Wayne took the doll and punched it over and over again. Laura was just sitting there, and they both laughed.”

Both employees have cited the agency directive that they not speak to the press.

Whistleblowers have alleged a “culture of corruption and cover-up” at both the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR operations, and they assert the misconduct goes all the way to the top.

While OIG and the federal Office of Special Counsel continue their investigations into the many complaints, whistleblowers tell Wisconsin Watchdog that they are growing increasingly frustrated. They fear more of the same coming – cover-ups and no justice.

“We see a pattern where people who are abusive are protected and people who report that abuse are punished,” one ODAR source told Wisconsin Watchdog. “It’s like a giant dysfunctional family.”

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.