Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

November 18, 2008

BUSH BURROWING.... Michelle Cottle noted this morning, "Jeez. Looks like it's going to take a Brill-O pad and a round of antibiotics to rid ourselves of the Bushies." It's true; we're dealing with a team anxious to leave its mark for a very long time.

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 One candidate was turned down by OPM and two were withdrawn by the submitting agency.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.

If you read one newspaper article today, read this one. It's the kind of piece that highlights a policy of lasting significance.

It wasn't a surprise when the Bush administration placed a bunch of industry lobbyists in political offices throughout the government, but there's an expectation that new political appointees would replace them once there's a new president. Lots of Bushies, however, are "burrowing" -- becoming career employees, who are very hard to replace, giving them a chance to keep up their work well into the future.

To be fair, Bush isn't the first president to pursue a burrowing strategy; eight years ago, Clinton was making similar moves.

But as Yglesias noted, "[A]s with all bad aspects of the American political system, George W. Bush seems determined to make things worse.... [B]asically we'll have the top layer of the civil service filled with industry shills."

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Shorter Benen: Bush bad, Clinton good.

Posted by: Brad on November 18, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Aren't these guys supposed to hate government? I still can't figure out why so many of them run for office and take jobs there if it's so terrible. Way to make government smaller....

Posted by: Nancy Drew on November 18, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Let this be a wake up call to the next congress. investigate EVERYTHING, and comb the bureaucracies of every last one who has failed to dot an I or cross a T.

Posted by: JoeW on November 18, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

That was always the intent of Bush Administration was to keep the office occupied with "Shills" to keep America from operating productively. Of course the best "Shill " is Leiberman who will report to The Far right with a salute to destruction of America through complete mismangagement of DHS.

Democratic spinelssness continues to p revaill towards the destruction of America. Steal,lie and deceive that is the political way. Accountability will not be necessary.

Posted by: mljohnston on November 18, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

That was always the intent of Bush Administration was to keep the office occupied with "Shills" to keep America from operating productively. Of course the best "Shill " is Leiberman who will report to The Far right with a salute to destruction of America through complete mismangagement of DHS.

Democratic spinelssness continues to p revaill towards the destruction of America. Steal,lie and deceive that is the political way. Accountability will not be necessary.

Posted by: mljohnston on November 18, 2008 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Given that they just wrecked the economy, and nobody in DC is hiring any GOP hacks, burrowing makes sense to me! Guaranteed jobs for life, yay!

Joe W above is 100% right: Congress, look at everything!!!!!

Posted by: chuck dc on November 18, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't "termination at will" - ie except in cases of unconstitutional discrimination - still the HR standard? Is there a different standard for the federal government?

Posted by: mmiddle on November 18, 2008 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

While it will be difficult to fire these people, I believe it will be pretty easy to transfer and "promote" them to useless, undesireable positions. How about transferring a Florida native to Cody, Wyoming?

Posted by: Catfish on November 18, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Let this be a wake up call to the next congress. investigate EVERYTHING... -JoeW

Given what has occurred already today, I wouldn't count on it.

Posted by: doubtful on November 18, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Mmiddle... government employment is much different than "termination at will". Its incredibly hard for them to fire even the worst employees. So with this bad economy, I'm sure happy to be working for the government!

Posted by: Mia on November 18, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

The Japanese have a way of dealing with employees they can't fire. They give them a sideways promotion that doesn't involve a raise, move them into an empty office and give them nothing to do. Most of these "promoted" employees can't handle it for long and leave of their own accord.

Posted by: Caslon on November 18, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

I have a friend who works at the GAO. He compares these Bush appointees to prison guards. If Obama loosens the reins on whistleblowers, these new moles may get very uncomfortable. In the meantime, I suspect they all have a direct line to Dan Burton's office.

Posted by: x on November 18, 2008 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Dubya will probably poison all the wells and salt the earth, too, before he leaves.

Posted by: Marko on November 18, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I'll bet that a lot of these conservatist moles heartily oppose civil service labor protections. Well, they probably will until 1/20/09.

Posted by: Harry Hopkins on November 18, 2008 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

we're dealing with a team anxious to leave its mark for a very long time.

Destroying Iraq, New Orleans, the US military, the US economy, US prestige overseas, the US Constitution, international relations and the environment not enough of a "mark"?

Posted by: ckelly on November 18, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Someone up-thread already mentioned it, but let me repeat the point: there ARE ways to deal with folks like this. J. Edgar Hoover, in fact, made it a fine art: "Welcome to the Civil Service, Mr. Bushie-in-disguise. Do you plan to take a few personal days before assuming your new post in Nome, Alaska?" And yes indeed, when they get to Nome, they find an empty office -- which they're expected to fill 8 hours a day -- and absolutely no work to do. Or, just as bad, the most thankless and miserable (and ultimately insignificant) assignments possible.

I'm not joking. Hoover used this technique a LOT during his years at the FBI, and I'm sure other bureaucrats have used it effectively as well.

Oh, to answer one of the comments above: these are not "terminate at will" jobs. They are civil service jobs, meaning they come with a lot of built-in protections. Termination can only occur with cause, and they have many, many opportunities for appeal. (Some doubtless could effectively appeal assignments to far-distant offices also). So it's a big deal when limited civil service positions are stuffed full of people who will spend every waking minute of the day and night thinking about ways to undermine the new Democratic president.

Posted by: Roger Keeling on November 18, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Aren't these guys supposed to hate government? I still can't figure out why so many of them run for office and take jobs there if it's so terrible. Way to make government smaller...." Posted by: Nancy Drew

These Bushites are the graduates of Liberty University, where home-schooled losers go to get a 'degree'. They can't get a job in the real world, so they have to work for the Government.

One can hope we can find a way to get rid of them.

Posted by: Lance on November 18, 2008 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK
"they find an empty office -- which they're expected to fill 8 hours a day -- and absolutely no work to do."

As much as I understand the motive and method behind this idea there's part of me that's thinking: "Hmmm... getting paid to do nothing; I'm in!".

But seriously, what's to prevent the Obama administration from revoking this order and returning these appointees to their old position? If Bush can change the rules by fiat to try to screw Obama why can't he return the favor?

Posted by: Tiffany G on November 18, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

The trouble is, these are true believers. They will gut it out for 4 or 8 years, using the time to build relationships with lobbying firms. They would use that empty office to do lobbying work on the side, and keep the money, and then get back to screwing up government the moment the Repubs get back in, as they would then already be in place, with a dossier detailing all the people in the department to get rid of.

Posted by: royalblue_tom on November 18, 2008 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK
But seriously, what's to prevent the Obama administration from revoking this order and returning these appointees to their old position? If Bush can change the rules by fiat to try to screw Obama why can't he return the favor?
Nope. Once you're civil service, you're civil service. That's a big part of what being civil service is all about.

I am a contractor for a federal agency and we've been lucky to have some GOP political appointees who actually like our agency, work hard and do an excellent job. If some of them wanted to convert it'd be a plus. I doubt that's what's happening here, though - not too many conservatives believe in the mission of the Depts of Labor and Interior.

But this is more of an annoyance than a true monkeywrenching. These former political appointees will be stamped with a red R. Like others have said, if they don't get with the program they'll get transferred to the wilderness or given a "we'll bore you into quitting" job.

I know it helps the blog to freak out about Everything Bush Administration, but this is just something that, um, every administration does.

Posted by: hubcap on November 18, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Bush borrowing"

I saw a dirty movie by that name once.

Posted by: Steve on November 18, 2008 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK
They would use that empty office to do lobbying work on the side, and keep the money,
That's where the scarlet R comes in. Their co-workers will be looking to get rid of them. Any funny stuff and an investigation is just a phone call to the IG hotline away. Posted by: hubcap on November 18, 2008 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

I know the Clinton administration did this previously, but does anyone know if this was the practice PRIOR to that?

Posted by: impeachcheneythenbush on November 18, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

I guess this is what Bush meant when he said they would try to assist, in every way possible, to ensure a "smooth" transition. If there's no way to stop this or reverse it because of civil service rules, I really like to idea "send them to Siberia."

Posted by: impeachcheneythenbush on November 18, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Why replace any Bush supporter? If they apologize, can't they just stay?

Posted by: jen f on November 18, 2008 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Benen: Bush bad, Clinton good.

Well, yeah. You're welcome to try to invalidate that premise if you like. Lotsa luck.

Posted by: Gregory on November 18, 2008 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

It is time to make a tough move to simply force them out, using Executive Orders or whatever. The rules need to be changed somehow.

Posted by: Neil B ‼ on November 18, 2008 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

While it is true that it would be a major operation to try and fire any of these "burrowers", there is nothing to stop the incoming Administration from re-aligning various components in the departments setting up new channels of authority ("Your position is now ... and you will, in future, report to the senior administrator for building maintenance."), etc.
It would undoubtedly be time-consuming, but considering the damage these leeches could do, well worth it.

Posted by: Doug on November 18, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

I have the distinction of being a person who actually succeeded in firing a civil service employee, when I was a lieutenant in the Army. An ex-sergeant was hired as a teacher at the Ordnance Guided Missile School, reporting to me, because he was close to the colonel in command of the school. And he refused to teach. (He turned out to have a bad case of stage fright.) It took six months and a lot of my time (fortunately, the job of a section chief wasn't too onerous), but I did finally get him fired. However, it's not hard to keep civil service people from doing harm, other than to your budget.

Posted by: DavidNOE on November 18, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

What a depressing thing to learn--I can't believe this, along with the ability to pardon so widely is an option.

Gee, If I were Obama, I'd be having lots of second thoughts about now..

Posted by: burrowing positions that could further damage the enviornment? on November 18, 2008 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

With everything it's going to cost for getting the economy back on track, it would make sense to have a few targeted cuts in government spending. Especially in departments that are top-heavy in management.

Posted by: TomB on November 19, 2008 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

The mentioning of J Edgar's reassignments reminds me of a tale told by a Doctor, who had been assigned to Luke AFB - Said another USAF Doctor had received orders to transfer to Landstuhl in Germany. He balked, flew to DC and threw a fit at DoD. So, they honored his request to stay in the states and shipped him off to the DEW Line in Alaska. Probably had to be retrained when he returned to private practice.

Posted by: berttheclock on November 19, 2008 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

Mia: "...incredibly hard for them to fire even the worst employees."

No its not. I used to represnt public employees in termination actions, if management has a valid reason to fire someone they could. All they had to do is follow the rules (due process,valid reason,ect.)and the person is gone.

Posted by: crimelord on November 19, 2008 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Essentially, they are adding another layer of cost to the government. Another administration can just create new positions, shuffling those burrowed lumps off to do nothing positions.

Posted by: sunzad on November 19, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly