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Probes into troubled Social Security offices crawling along

By   /   April 13, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 61 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – Federal investigators are “making progress” on separate probes into scandal-plagued Social Security Administration offices, sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog.

SSA’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for months have been investigating allegations of misconduct at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR, facilities in Madison and Milwaukee. ODAR reviews Social Security disability claims, ultimately deciding whether benefits will be awarded or denied.

AP file photo

MOVING ALONG: Sources say investigations into allegations of misconduct at Wisconsin Social Security offices are moving forward.

“The OSC is really ready to ramp things up,” a source with knowledge of the probes told Wisconsin Watchdog. “They are making progress. It’s like an Army crawl instead of a run, but we are told they are making progress.”

Meanwhile, OIG investigators were at the Milwaukee ODAR office last month looking into an alleged breach of an employee’s private records, according to the employee.

In November, the employee, an SSA whistleblower who has asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, 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.

OIG agents interviewed witnesses on March 14 and told the whistleblower that the VA now knows who accessed her records.

“They said this guy involuntarily resigned,” she said. “They told me the VA knows, that’s why they are paying for 12 months of credit bureau monitoring.”

The whistleblower has requested documents related to the matter from the VA. She was told the records should be made available by next week. She also filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on the OIG investigation.

In the Milwaukee office, whistleblower Ron Klym remains out of work, waiting for an appeals process that is moving at a snail’s pace.

The long-time SSA employee, who was fired after going public with accusations of agency misconduct and long case delays, said his arbitration hearing was postponed again on Wednesday – the fourth month in a row. He asserts the usual players in what whistleblowers have described as a corrupt SSA Region 5 headquarters continue to retaliate against him for taking his allegations to federal authorities.

An OIG investigation into the Madison office found managers there committed time and attendance abuses, engaged in questionable hiring practices, and failed to provide proper oversight.

The Inspector General’s fact sheet, obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog earlier this year, notes managers held whistleblowers to significantly stricter standards than other staff. Yet, the lengthy investigation seems to have found no acts of retaliation committed against the ODAR employees who brought widespread allegations of corruption – including fraud, nepotism, harassment and retaliation – to light.

“Most of the issues with the Madison HO (Hearing Office) identified through this investigation were attributable to poor management, inconsistent application of agency policies and lack of critical management oversight,” the report states.

The OIG fact sheet, however, notes that after group supervisor Deborah Holland disclosed the allegations to multiple sources, SSA took “personnel actions that adversely affected her, including the relocation of her duty station and reassignment of her duties.”

The report also noted hiring concerns.

“Hiring decisions in the Madison (Hearing Office) were largely unchecked by ODAR management, leaving the hearing office director free to populate the office with friends and family members of current employees, increasing perceptions of favoritism and diminishing employee morale and focus on the agency’s public service mission,” the fact sheet stated. “Hiring practices in the Madison HO, which often included the manipulation of vacancy announcements to achieve a desired end, attempted to dissuade applicants from pursuing certain positions, which ran afoul of protections intended for all candidates for federal positions.”

A Region 5 spokesman repeatedly has said the agency cannot discuss personnel matters.

One whistleblower, noting that the OIG can only make recommendations to Social Security Administration leadership, said she doesn’t believe anyone will ever be held accountable.

“I lost faith a long time ago,” the federal employee said.

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.