MADISON, Wis. – Now that a federal investigation has found multiple examples of misconduct and abuse at a Wisconsin Social Security Administration office, some employees who blew the whistle have one question: When will justice be served?
In February, SSA’s Office of the Inspector General released a fact sheet on its lengthy investigation into the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Among other incidents of misconduct, investigators found that the director of the scandal-plagued hearing office used official leave and sick leave to gamble at an area casino, while a group supervisor got paid a full day’s wage to watch a Green Bay Packers football game at Lambeau Field.
The fact sheet states the law was broken at the Madison ODAR facility and that managers held whistleblowers to significantly stricter standards than other staff.
“An Office of Inspector General investigation found serious problems, including time and attendance fraud, and showed that two whistleblowers in the office experienced disparate treatment from other workers,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson wrote SSA’s acting commissioner. “I request information about how SSA will address these problems.”
As of last week, the agency had yet to comply, once again asking for more time to respond.
Johnson is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which in June launched an inquiry into the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR offices.
OIG investigators found that the employee who took in the Packers game on taxpayer time, former Madison ODAR group supervisor Wayne Gentz according to multiple sources close to the situation, “violated federal law, federal regulations, and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”
Former Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz “used official and sick leave to gamble at an area casino,” Johnson wrote. “The OIG found this conduct violated federal law and federal regulations.”
Hodorowicz, accused of leading a “culture of corruption and cover-up” at the Madison office, was removed from the office and relieved of her management duties in August amid the OIG investigation.
Gentz, too, was removed from the office and his position.
Both remain on the agency payroll, working for SSA’s Chicago-based Region 5 remotely from their homes, according to sources.
Meanwhile, whistleblowers claim they continue to be retaliated against, some forced to fight for telework accommodations necessitated by their declining health. Those health problems, they say, are directly related to the stress they have experienced in their long and painful whistleblower odyssey.
“Are they (Gentz and Hodorowicz) having to fight to work from home? Laura should have actually been fired but there she is, sitting in the comfort of her own home, collecting six figures,” one SSA whistleblower said.
Asked about the status of the Madison ODAR managers, Doug Nguyen, SSA regional spokesman, said what he has often said, that the agency cannot comment on confidential personnel matters.
“The agency is committed to ensuring a workplace free of harassment and retaliation for all employees,” Nguyen said in an email response to Wisconsin Watchedog. “We are working proactively in that regard.”
Amid multiple federal investigations last fall, two top administrators for the Chicago region said they would be stepping down. They haven’t.
In October, it was announced that Sherry D. Thompson, chief administrative law judge for SSA’s Region 5, and Assistant Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Rabaut would be resigning from their leadership positions at the end of 2016.
As of this week, Thompson and Rabaut remained at their posts. Nguyen did not comment on the administrators’ status.
At the time, Gregory Senden, a representative for the government union that represents many SSA employees, sent an email to several staff members advising of the changes.
“Hopefully the new leadership that is chosen will be effective and professional, and willing to work with AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) to improve the morale of ODAR employees and improve service to the public that we serve,” Senden wrote in the email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.
M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]
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