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.
“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.
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