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Senate inquiry into scandal-plagued Social Security offices plods along

By   /   November 14, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 45 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – Monday marked five months since the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee launched an official inquiry into widespread allegations of misconduct and whistleblower retaliation inside Wisconsin Social Security Administration offices.

Committee staff still are waiting for SSA administrators to fulfill their requests for information.

While the “foot-dragging” that defined the beginning of the inquiry may have subsided somewhat, Senate committee insiders tell Wisconsin Watchdog that they are trying to make sense out of the “glob” of unspecified documents they have received from the embattled federal agency.

“This is true for the Obama administration in general. It’s like pulling teeth to get information out of an agency,” a committee insider said. “Some have argued that you can have an easier time getting information as a private citizen through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request than if you are seeking information as a congressional committee.”

But the clock on the Obama administration is ticking.

Watchdog.org file photo

WHISTLEBLOWERS WAITING: A Senate committee inquiry into allegations of misconduct and retaliation at Social Security Administration offices is five months old. What’s next remains unclear.

Key Social Security administrators like SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin are not likely long for their leadership positions. Colvin has served as acting commissioner since Feb. 14, 2013. President Barack Obama nominated her to the post in June 2014. Colvin remains acting commissioner, at least until Donald Trump, the Republican president-elect, takes the reins of executive power in January.

A new SSA administrator could push agency staffers to pick up the pace on the Senate committee’s requests, although the same mid-level bureaucratic leaders under fire have been entrenched in the Social Security Administration for years.

“They (the Obama administration) have been playing games and delaying things but now they have an end date, Jan. 20,” said the committee insider.

Growing tired of an apparent “effort to delay,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on June 14 sent a formal letter to the Social Security Administration requesting the agency’s “unfettered cooperation” in turning over information related to allegations of misconduct and retaliation in SSA’s disability claims review offices.

“I write to you concerning reports of whistleblower retaliation within the Milwaukee and Madison hearing offices of the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review,” Johnson wrote in the letter to Colvin.

Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has been trying to get answers from the SSA since a staff-level briefing May 9.

The inquiry follows Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigation, Deadly Delays, into myriad allegations of harassment, intimidation, due process violations and retaliation at the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

The more serious allegations include manipulation of cases, corruption, nepotism, sexual harassment, and intimidation and retaliation against employees who attempt to report misconduct.

In his original letter, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, wrote that SSA officials have refused to answer questions about media reports that Milwaukee ODAR management placed senior case technician Ron Klym on administrative leave and moved to fire him.

Klym’s position was terminated  Aug. 17, in what Klym and others allege to be a shredding of whistleblower protection laws.

Klym had told the Senate committee and Wisconsin Watchdog about significant case delays in Milwaukee and what he and others have described as a “shell game” in which management transfers backlogged cases to other SSA offices to make their poor performance numbers look better.

Social Security Administration officials have told the Senate committee they transferred cases only to expedite the process and cut into the delays.

Nearly three months after being fired, Klym is asking Colvin to intervene.

“I respectfully request that I be reinstated to the position from which I was terminated on August 17, 2016,” the whistleblower wrote Friday in a letter to the acting commissioner. “I respectfully request a response to this proposal by close of business, Tuesday, November 15, 2016.”

As of late Monday afternoon, Klym said his communication was greeted with silence.

A whistleblower at the Madison ODAR, Deborah Holland, lost her management position after she made public allegations of a “culture of corruption and cover-up” at SSA. She remains employed but was removed from the Madison office and is working under the close scrutiny of the Chicago Region 5 office.

At least two federal agencies are investigating the scandal-plagued ODAR operations. SSA’s Office of the Inspector General continues its investigation, according to multiple sources. In recent weeks, top administrative law judges at the Region 5 headquarters have announced their resignations, and the hearing office director at the Madison ODAR has been removed from her position.

Still on the payroll is Madison ODAR Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, who is accused of deciding cases based on the sex appeal of claimants. He is no longer on the hearing schedule but remains on the staff roster, according to information obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

The Senate committee staffers have obtained internal Social Security Administration email and other documents critical to investigating the allegations, sources say.

Just what the OIG intends to do remains unclear. The inspector general does not comment on active investigations. SSA officials repeatedly have said the agency doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

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


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.