Developments at the OSC: On October 29, 2013, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced the settlement of a complaint against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for misconduct in the hiring process.
OSC has jurisdiction to enforce federal employee complaints of Prohibited Personnel Practices (PPPs), which are listed at 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b). Several of the PPPs apply to the federal hiring process. Under 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4), a federal employee may not “deceive or willfully obstruct any person with respect to such person’s right to compete for employment”. Under 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(5), an employee may not “influence any person to withdraw from competition for any position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any other person for employment.” Finally, 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(6) prohibits “grant[ing] any preference or advantage not authorized by law, rule, or regulation to any employee or applicant for employment […] for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any particular person for employment.”
In this case, the employee–a disabled military veteran with a “10 point” federal hiring preference–had applied for a PTO position. The PTO supervisor who was the selecting official for the position then contacted the employee and encouraged him to withdraw his application. When the application was withdrawn, the supervisor then selected a non-veteran acquaintance for the position. The employee filed a PPP complaint with OSC. While over the last several years OSC has only selected no more than roughly 10% of PPP complaints it receives for investigation, OSC did choose to investigate this case, and “PTO worked swiftly with OSC to resolve the matter”. The settlement agreement awarded $29,000 to the complaining employee. Further, PTO agreed to suspend the supervisor for 7-14 days.