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Troubled Social Security disability claims agency promotes ‘positive organization culture’

By   /   November 4, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 44 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The scandal-plagued Office of Disability Adjudication and Review has produced an in-house video addressing the “culture” of the federal agency.

“Organizational culture is the values, behaviors, and principles that contribute to how we accomplish our mission.  In the VOD, we introduce a shared exercise that begins to define ODAR’s culture,” proclaims an administrative email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog. The link to the video-on-demand does not allow outside viewing.

“Building and fostering a positive organization culture, where the values we stand for are clear, is central to our ability to deliver our mission and serve the public in a professional, compassionate, and responsive way. Thank you for all you do each and every day,” the email concludes.

The culture the Social Security Administration’s ODAR operations is trying to project is much different than the “culture of corruption” several whistleblowers have alleged.

“Nice sentiment but their actions are not consistent with their words,” one whistleblower told Wisconsin Watchdog.

ODAR offices in Madison, Milwaukee and elsewhere are under federal investigation on multiple allegations of misconduct and retaliation, as first reported in Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigative series, “Deadly Delays.”

As the Social Security Administration looks to take employee input on “fostering a positive organization culture,” one whistleblower tells Wisconsin Watchdog she continues to be retaliated against for speaking up about alleged harassment and corruption.

AP file photo

STAY POSITIVE: The Social Security Administration’s ODAR has produced an in-house video on making the offices ‘positive’ workplaces.

The whistleblower, who asked not to be identified, received a 3, or mid-level grade, on her recent performance appraisal. The employee has received exemplary reviews throughout her tenure with ODAR; suddenly she has been downgraded.

Why? Because, according to the review, obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog, the supervisor said the employee’s emails to administrators on a couple of occasions “contained an insistent voice.”

The incident in question involved the employee noting that she had not heard from a manager so she was placing a case in a “To-Do” file.

“It’s just more retaliation,” said the whistleblower, who has recorded multiple incidents in which she claims she was retaliated against after she testified in an internal sexual harassment case.

In her performance review, the whistleblower’s current and former supervisor complimented her professionalism and her skills.

“(She) regularly performed each and every aspect of her … positions until her duties were stripped in retaliation for her cooperation with the in-house, OIG (Office of Inspector General), and Congressional investigations going on into the misconduct” allegations, the employee’s former supervisor noted.

“She was targeted for retaliation for being a whistleblower and a witness. She was called foul names as she walked down the hall, had a headache inducing chemical sprayed over her cubicle, was ostracized, ridiculed, and was treated in an emotionally and verbally abusive fashion. This resulted in a serious deterioration of her health,” the former supervisor wrote. “I am extremely proud of (her) for refusing to respond negatively to what she was being subjected to.”

The employee received effusive praise from her current manager in every other category, each relating to job knowledge and results.

“You provided case work up assistance to the Chicago Hearing Office. Due to the high quality of your work product, you were assigned this duty earlier this year; your efforts had a direct affect (sic) on public service,” the supervisor wrote. “Your pulling [of documents] allowed the office to schedule cases they otherwise would not have been able to do using their own man power. You have assisted in bringing down the appeals backlog in a very dire need situation.”

Meanwhile, Ron Klym, a long-time employee at the Milwaukee ODAR, is struggling to get answers on his appeal and the state of the federal investigations nearly three months after the agency fired the whistleblower. Klym first brought to light evidence of long case delays, some as many as 900 or more days in the processing of Social Security disability claims in Milwaukee. Some claimants, according to disability claim attorneys, died waiting for decisions.

“Today marks the 14th month that the SSA has been in possession of the due process delay report, titled EXHIBIT O. That report was forwarded to the Deputy Chief Judge of SSA, nine months ago, today,” Klym wrote this week in an email to a federal official.  “And, this autumn also marks four years since contacting Senator Ron Johnson’s office regarding the due process delays.”

RELATED: Social Security chief judge retiring amid cloud of scandal

Johnson, R-Oshkosh, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which opened an inquiry into Madison and Milwaukee ODAR operations in June. As of last check, SSA still had not fulfilled the committee’s request for records.

There has been a shake-up of late at ODAR’s Region 5 Chicago headquarters.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported late last month, two top administrative law judges at the Chicago headquarters recently announced their resignations.

Sherry D. Thompson, chief administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration’s Region 5 in Chicago, and Assistant Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Rabaut will resign from their leadership positions later this year.

Top managers at the Madison office have been reassigned, and the Region 5 attorney who oversaw employee grievances has been named an administrative law judge at a suburban Chicago ODAR.

John Pleuss, the Madison ODAR administrative law judge accused of sexual harassment and of deciding cases based on the physical attractiveness of claimants, remains on staff, according to an updated hearing office directory.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in June, Pleuss in his case files described claimants as “attractive,” innocent-looking, “buxom.” In one case, he noted that a “young, white (woman)”appearing before him “looks like a man.”

“Obese, young, white (female) skimpy black top,” he wrote of another claimant.

“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 ODAR email on “organizational culture” strikes a positive note throughout.

“Despite our budget challenges, we remained focused and dedicated to our mission in serving the people that depend on us each and every day,” the email states.

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.