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Social Security whistleblower waiting for answers in privacy breach case

By   /   February 24, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 56 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The investigation into an alleged breach of a Social Security Administration employee’s private records appears to be going nowhere fast, even as another probe found wide-ranging misconduct in a Madison SSA office.

The employee, a whistleblower at the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, told Wisconsin Watchdog that a federal investigation of the alleged records violations is “still in process.”

Photo by Healthcare Informatics

PRIVACY PROBE: A Social Security Administration whistleblower claims an employee compromised her personal information in retaliation for her going to the press with allegations of misconduct.

She said she also was told by an attorney for SSA’s Office of the Inspector General that the individual who had accessed her records without her consent “might have resigned.”

The whistleblower, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said she doesn’t know what to believe. But she said she is growing increasingly concerned that, again, the scandal-plagued federal agency is not taking complaints of misconduct seriously.

“I’m very upset and troubled by all of this. There is my medical records, everything is there, exposed. It’s supposed to be private,” the ODAR employee said.  “They keep telling me they are taking it seriously, but I don’t think they are.”

In November, the source filed a complaint alleging her Veterans Affairs records had been compromised and made public to fellow ODAR employees.

The source, who had previously brought to light other allegations of misconduct inside the Wisconsin ODAR office, said another employee in the office obtained her VA records – including military service, medical and other personal information.

She said the co-worker got the records from a friend who works in the VA system.

“He was bragging about it and discussing it with a group of (staff members),” said the employee, who learned of the alleged records breach from sources close to the situation.

The co-worker allegedly was upset that the whistleblower was quoted in Watchdog.org’s investigative series about widespread allegations of misconduct and retaliation at ODAR facilities. She said the co-worker relayed information that he could have known only by reading the personal file.

The whistleblower contacted the VA’s privacy officer and was told the agency would follow up with an IT investigation to determine who accessed the whistleblower’s records without her consent.

RELATED: Social Security whistleblower says ‘everything has been compromised’

On Jan 3, following an investigation that was supposed to take 10 days, a VA official informed the whistleblower in a letter that the “results of the fact finding were inconclusive and we were unable to substantiate the allegation that a VA employee disclosed your military service time to an unauthorized party.”

The extent of the “fact finding” involved interviewing staff members at the VA office in question, effectively asking them whether they sent the private information without consent, according to the whistleblower.

She asked whether the “fact finders” had tracked the email and interviewed witnesses to the security breach. She was told the VA did not have the jurisdiction and referred her to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General.

The whistleblower said she was recently told by a Social Security Administration attorney that the OIG’s investigation is ongoing and that while she could not verify it, “the person who had accessed my records without my consent might have resigned.”

A call to the inspector general’s office was not returned Friday.

An SSA spokesman repeatedly has declined to comment on personnel matters.

“I have only had contact with an attorney in the SSA/OIG office. I have not been interviewed by an investigator, and I have no knowledge of an investigator even being assigned to investigate my complaint,” the whistleblower wrote to U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office.

Until recently, Baldwin staff members had been serving as an intermediary in the matter. The whistleblower said Baldwin aides have in recent days stopped returning her calls. As Wisconsin Watchdog reported earlier this week, Baldwin has left the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which last June opened an inquiry into allegations of corruption and retaliation at Social Security Administration offices in Madison and Milwaukee.

The ODAR whistleblower said the slow pace of the investigation is particularly frustrating because she provided investigators with the email address of the Social Security Administration employee alleged to have received the unauthorized records, and has given OIG the names of multiple witnesses.

The inspector general’s office this week posted a summary of its findings in a lengthy investigation into the troubled Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

Not much information has been released about the OIG’s reported probe into the Milwaukee ODAR regarding serious allegations of due process violations and whistleblower retaliation.

Ronald Klym, a 16-year employee with the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, in May went public with records showing a massive backlog of disability claims cases in Milwaukee.

Records showed cases from Green Bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and other smaller communities in the Milwaukee ODAR coverage area had waiting times longer than 650 days.

Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days to dispose of. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.

In the first story in Wisconsin Watchdog’s multi-part series Deadly Delays, Klym said things got rough for him at the office after he alerted senior officials and, later, lawmakers about a litany of conduct and due process issues at ODAR

“Absolutely. I am being punished because I am a whistleblower,” said Klym, who alleged harassment, additional work assignments and unreasonable deadlines.

Things got rougher two and a half months later when the agency fired Klym. He continues to wait for his appeal hearing, which repeatedly has been delayed.

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.