Without a last-minute infusion of nearly $3 million, the special task force may be unable to pay its staff and buy the kind of technical assistance it needs to investigate allegations that White House political operatives may have improperly injected politics into government activities, according to Jim Mitchell, spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
In April, Special Counsel Scott Bloch announced that a new, six-member task force from his office would probe the use of private e-mail accounts by White House aides, the firing of at least one U.S. attorney by administration appointees and presentations of political data by White House aides to other officials in government.
The cost of the task force for 2008 would be $2.89 million, according to OSC estimates. But Bloch started the probe long after he submitted his 2008 budget request. And now he's having a hard time convincing those holding the nation's purse strings to loosen up and give him some last-minute extra funding.
The House of Representatives has already approved a budget for OSC that does not include any extra money for the task force. In an accompanying report, it directed OSC to work with the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to request the spending.
On the Senate side, the panel reviewing OSC's budget is aware of the problem but doesn't look eager to jump in. Documents obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com imply the Senate too will decline to add extra funds for the task force. In a draft report, that panel too will point the investigators to ask the White House to support its request.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the panel, did not respond to a request for comment.
If congressional Democrats are reluctant to back Bloch, it may be because of concerns about his appropriateness. Bloch, whose office investigates whistle-blower retaliation complaints and discrimination disputes as well as allegations of inappropriate political activity by government employees, has twice been accused by watchdog groups and former employees of letting politics determine investigative decisions.
Bloch is also reportedly under investigation by a White House-run panel, the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE), over allegations he retaliated and discriminated against his own employees. Bloch has denied the charges.
With Bloch and the White House investigating each other's alleged misbehaviors, it isn't hard to understand why relations between the two have been strained for some time.
Then in June, Bloch issued a blistering report on another White House appointee, General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan. He found she had engaged "in the most pernicious of [prohibited] political activity" by encouraging her subordinates to find ways to support Republican candidates.
Doan has denied the charges in Bloch's report, which recommended she "be disciplined to the fullest extent." The White House has taken no action regarding Doan.
A spokesman for the White House budget office declined to say whether it would recommend extra money to pay for the task force. Noting that President Bush has already sent his budget request to the Hill, the spokesman said it would be inappropriate to interfere with the congressional appropriations process at this point.
OSC spokesman Jim Mitchell says his office doesn't know what to expect.
"We talked extensively with OMB about our need for staff, space, equipment, computer forensic analysis equipment," he said, but have heard nothing back. "I don't know if we should take that as a denial."