MADISON, Wis. – As President Abraham Lincoln once said of an overly cautious general, the Social Security Administration has a terminal “case of the slows.”
Once again, the federal agency has asked for more time to comply with a Senate committee’s request.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, had given SSA officials until 5 p.m. on Feb. 28 to provide documents related to allegations of widespread misconduct in the agency’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Johnson is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, which last June opened an inquiry into allegations of corruption, due process violations and retaliation against whistleblowers.
A Senate insider says the SSA has asked for more time to do a “deeper review” of a report by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General. That report, posted at the OIG website, breaks down the major findings of the IG’s investigation in the Madison ODAR.
- Hiring decisions were largely unchecked, leaving the management official (Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz) free to populate the office with friends and family members of current employees, increasing perceptions of favoritism and diminishing both employee morale and focus on the agency’s mission.
- Hiring practices, which often included the manipulation of vacancy announcements to achieve a desired end, likely violated merit system principles resulting in prohibited personnel practices.
- No appointments violated Title 5 veterans preferences, though one stated end was to avoid hiring veterans.
- Management officials’ time and attendance practices violated both law and regulation, and set a tone for the office that misconduct by certain employees would be tolerated, and in some instances, encouraged.
- The presence of racist and sexist written comments in hearing notes was known to many employees and managers in the office for years and went unaddressed; however, the OIG did not find evidence of any systemic biases in written decisions involving protected groups.
Federal investigators examined sexual harassment and other misconduct allegations against Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss.
Pleuss in his notes to legal assistants described claimants as “attractive,” “innocent-looking,” “buxom.” In one case, he noted 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 judge wrote, and parenthetically he added,“(actually a gorilla-like appearance).”
Pleuss retired at the end of the year, still eligible for a pension and a suite of federal benefits.
The inspector general has yet to comment on the investigation. Full reports are not publicly available because they “contain sensitive confidential information,” OIG notes in its summary.
And the Social Security Administration has, as it repeatedly has done throughout the course of the committee inquiry, failed to honor a committee deadline.
The Senate insider says committee staff have been in touch with the SSA on a regular basis to “ensure they understand the seriousness of the (OIG’s) finding and will make sure they address the allegations.”
M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]