In a special investigative report that will hopefully get some attention - and outrage - two Washington Post reporters and two helping investigators have uncovered a disgusting practice that has been going on for months in the Bush administration. They have uncovered a practice that has been tried for decades in Washington during transitions and is alive and well in the outgoing Bush administration. Whether or not this call out will result in anything being done is anybody's guess.
The practice, called "burrowing," is as simple as it is onerous. Political appointees are appointed to civil service jobs, essentially guaranteeing that the policies of the outgoing administration will continue to be followed in the new administration. Further, once they are in a civil service position they automatically receive the protection of the system against being easily removed.
You can read the entire WaPo article by Juliet Eilperin and Carol d. Leonnig HERE.
I was a career civil servant in DC for about 20 years. Toward the end of that period I held high civil service positions that were awarded through a competitive merit process. Moving political appointees into those spots destroys the chance of further advancement for civil service employees into those positions.
Eilperin and Leonnig write, "Just weeks before leaving office, the Interior Department's top lawyer has shifted half a dozen key deputies -- including two former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions -- into senior civil service posts.
The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called "burrowing" by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.
Similar efforts are taking place at other agencies. Two political hires at the Labor Department have already secured career posts there, and one at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is trying to make the switch."
Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the Bush administration allowed 20 political appointees to become career civil servants. Six political appointees to the Senior Executive Service, the government's most prestigious and highly paid employees, have received approval to take career jobs at the same level. Fourteen other political, or "Schedule C," appointees have also been approved to take career jobs. One candidate was turned down by OPM and two were withdrawn by the submitting agency.
The personnel moves come as Bush administration officials are scrambling to cement in place policy and regulatory initiatives that touch on issues such as federal drinking-water standards, air quality at national parks, mountaintop mining and fisheries limits."
Such moves are commonplace and should not be seen as a uniquely Bush type of "dirty tricks." Bill Clinton approved 47 such appointments, including 7 to the highest civil service slots. All of those positions, once occupied, provide significant job protections that are not afforded to political appointees, so the incoming administration has a very difficult time unseating the incumbent.
Most of the moves uncovered so far have been in the Interior Department, with other similar moves being uncovered in Labor, HUD and in the Medicare/Medicaid offices. It is likely that many other such moves will be uncovered in most of the other agencies.
The Administration is orchestrating a standard response to the inquiries. Dana Perino, White House Press Secretary, today said that this was a good thing because it keeps highly knowledgeable and competent employees within the Federal government who would otherwise go back into private industry. The Interior Department's Solicitor, who has been responsible for the wholesale moving of 6 employees into career jobs, has said almost the same thing.
Environmental, wildlife, and conservation organizations are up in arms because many of the political appointees who are getting changed into career civil servants have been those who have worked hard to promote "... the cause of private property owners over the public interest on issues such as grazing and logging." Others have consistently taken the side of private minerals and energy companies in developing public land to the exclusion of the views of those who wish the public lands to be managed with multi-use and environmental concerns factored in.
There is little that can be done to stop this current activity since there is no law that controls it. It is difficult to even find out where it is going on or how much is going on.
One last quote from the Washington Post article:
"Outside groups are trying to monitor these moves but are powerless to reverse them. Alex Bastani, a representative at the Labor Department for the American Federation of Government Employees, said it took months for that agency even to acknowledge that two of its Bush appointees, Carrie Snidar and Brad Mantel, had gotten civil service posts.
'They're trying to burrow into these career jobs, and we're very upset,' Bastani said. "Everyone should have an opportunity to apply for these positions. And certainly career people who don't have partisan bent and have 10 or 15 years in their respective fields should have a shot at these positions."
This is one of those subtle abuses of power that makes so many people so cynical when it comes to what happens in Washington. Many complain of "bureaucrats." Often that complaint is misdirected and the so called "bureaucrats" are usually the ones who glue Washington together. Pubic civil service is an honorable profession and it is all too often the politicians who are giving the bureaucracy an unwarranted bad name. "Burrowing" is clearly one such obscenity.
The Congress should look into this issue and pass a law prohibiting the use of “burrowing” by political appointees into the career civil service. Meanwhile, President Obama should issue an Executive Order prohibiting such activity in his administration.
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- Newcomerstown, Ohio, USA
- December 28
- Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield
- Retired Protestant Pastor and Theologian, jointly credentialed in the United Church of Christ and the Moravian Church. Education: BA, MA, M.Div, Thd. Public Service: NY State Office of Executive Development, Management Intern; Federal Exec. Branch: Executive Office of the President, Budget Examiner, Bureau of the Budget; Interior, Director of Energy and Minerals, Bureau of Land Management; Non Profit: Ford Foundation, Deputy Director, Energy Policy Project; Congressional: Director, Office of Special Projects; Director, Division of Energy and Materials, General Accounting Office; Private industry: Vice President, Grow Group, Inc.; Chief Executive Officer, US Paint; Owner, the Energy Center, St. Louis. Christian service: Pastor, First Congregational UCC, Ottawa, Illinois; Pastor, St. Paul's UCC, Port Washington, Ohio; Pastor, Moravian Church, Gnadenhutten, Ohio.
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