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 22, 2008

THE CONSEQUENCES OF BUSH BURROWING.... PZ Myers explains this morning, "The Bush administration will leave us with another legacy: unqualified Republican ideologues receiving appointments in various institutions, including scientific organizations, as their ship of state sinks. The rats are scuttling overboard, and are being rewarded with captaincies on any available vessel."

He's referring to this.

The president of the nation's largest general science organization yesterday sharply criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees gaining permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, saying the result would be "to leave wreckage behind."

"It's ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure," said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "You'd just like to think people have more respect for the institution of government than to leave wreckage behind with these appointments."

Well, yes, one would like to think that. But we're talking about the Bush gang here.

The specific examples are absurd to the point of parody.

In one recent example, Todd Harding -- a 30-year-old political appointee at the Energy Department -- applied for and won a post this month at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There, he told colleagues in a Nov. 12 e-mail, he will work on "space-based science using satellites for geostationary and meteorological data." Harding earned a bachelor's degree in government from Kentucky's Centre College, where he also chaired the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans.

Also this month, Erik Akers, the congressional relations chief for the Drug Enforcement Administration, gained a permanent post at the agency after being denied a lower-level career appointment late last year.

And in mid-July, Jeffrey T. Salmon, who has a doctorate in world politics and was a speechwriter for Vice President Cheney when he served as defense secretary, had been selected as deputy director for resource management in the Energy Department's Office of Science. In that position, he oversees decisions on its grants and budget.

As if Bush weren't making it difficult enough for Obama to govern effectively, he'll also have to deal with the consequences of widespread "burrowing."

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

Bookmark and Share

For the record, Bush isn't the first Administration to burrow its political appointees. And no--neither was Clinton the first either.

Posted by: Jon Karak on November 22, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

AKA "Wingnut welfare"

Posted by: airron on November 22, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

I've seen various suggestions such as reassignment to the hinterlands or to positions where they can do no damage. Also, eliminating the positions that they hold in a restructuring of the agencies. What are some of the other options for the Obama administration?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on November 22, 2008 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

We should set up a Dept of Buffoonery and base it in Alaska. Transfer all of Bush's hacks up there.

Posted by: JoeW on November 22, 2008 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Do you mean nobody at all in any of these cabinet level government agencies has authority over these people. That doesn't sound real to me. Also, these people aren't to be subject to periodic personnel reviews? The new administration is not without power. They can create positions above these people if necessary. Can't they?

Posted by: Pat on November 22, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Lets remember that this is also the legacy of Asscroft and the Patriot act. Before them, higher level civserv ("CS") jobs would require vetting by career CS employees. This was eliminated by the "patriot" act.
My solution: sneak some one liner of a law into the 10000 page general budget that says that any 'switchers' are still considered political employer

Posted by: Aaron on November 22, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

I've seen various suggestions such as reassignment to the hinterlands or to positions where they can do no damage. Also, eliminating the positions that they hold in a restructuring of the agencies. What are some of the other options for the Obama administration?

Also, in my experience, new civil service hires are subject to a year's probationary period, during which they can be fired with no (or very little) cause. I'd say not having expertise in the area that you're working in would qualify as "cause."

Posted by: Jack Lindahl on November 22, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

The meme that burrowing is standard operation procedure is being pushed, but I haven't seen any examples of individuals, qualified or otherwise, that were burrowed in prior to the Bush I to Clinton transition or before the Clinton to Bush II. Names please.

Further,even if burrowing has occurred in past transitions we must also consider the scale of past burrowing when deciding if the current burrowing is not out of the ordinary. And the qualifications of those burrowed in must be compared to the current bunch of would-be gophers.

Posted by: rege on November 22, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Sclerotic, just like Rome. Useless eaters deplete the imperial payroll. Now we've had our Caligula. What's next? The Visigoths?

Posted by: JeremiadJ on November 22, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

It seems easy enough to me: Zero out the affected agencies' budgets, form a new one hiring back anyone in place before, say, Aug 2008. If you can't zero out the place position-by-position, then zero the agency and rename it. Department of State Prime, etc. ...

More seriously, the ultimate evil of these is not just becoming speedbumps for the Obama administration. It's the degradation of the concept of "civil service" and the idea of having protections in place for them. It's win/win for Bush and his ilk: Either Obama accepts these hacks where they are, or he undermines civil service protection to get rid of them. And then, should the GOP ever regain the White House, they'll use that precedent to gut the bureaucracy.

And keep in mind that during the darkest days of the Bush administration, this country was saved -- to the extent it has been saved -- by the so-called "entrenched bureaucracy" that insisted on following the rules that had been laid down. We all owe a debt to the many individuals who valiantly delayed, denied, or derailed Bush initiatives because they weren't proper procedure.

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on November 22, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Scrap the departments and renames then "Secretariats." You get rid of the Bush-moles, and then just sit back and watch the Soviet terminology make wingnuts explode like popcorn in a bonfire.

Posted by: Steve W. on November 22, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Wingnut welfare." Excellent, airron.

This shouldn't be a serious problem. When the burrowers who are unqualified or make obstacles of themselves are identified, can't they simply be moved to an office by themselves and given nothing to do?

Does anyone know if Jack is right about civil service employees having a one-year probationary period? If that's true, the problem of the Bush Burrowers will be easy to solve.

I'm more worried about Monica Goodling's hires in the DOJ than anyone else that Bush is leaving behind.

Posted by: OkieFromMuskogee on November 22, 2008 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

It's What Republicans Do: Overview Of the Coleman Franken Recount

Posted by: John Emerson on November 22, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is why Obama shouldn't have taken investigations of Bush-era wrongdoing off the table so quickly. It could have been a useful bargaining chip in preempting these lame-duck shenanigans.

Posted by: MarkC on November 22, 2008 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Can't they be posted to some obscure outposts somewhere in the most desolate areas of Alaska? They should be able to be fired, but if not (just like 'tenured ' teachers...), then eliminate their positions, and then post new positions, with REAL requirements to be posted...

Time for our next - honestly elected, not SE-lected - President, Mr. Obama, to clean ship and plug the loopholes. Make it illegal to burrow unqualified people into ANY position. Check out any and all of the other loopholes this chimpy administration has found and PLUG IT, once and for all!

Posted by: YES!WE!CAN! on November 22, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Do a little jiujitsu on them. Make them all the spokespeople for the policies they most disagree with in the agency. If you have someone burrowed in the NIH, make them the spokesperson for any AIDs initiatives.

Republicans thrive on giving good public relations. That way, they have no policy power and cannot actually gum up the works. If they fall down on the job or do a lousy job, their performance reviews will suffer and they will be terminated. Worst of all for the Republicans, if they actually are good spokespeople for global warming and AIDs research, and needle programs and premarital sex education (including condoms), their face will be forever associated with those initiatives and their reputation will be mud with the wingnuts.

Posted by: coltergeist on November 22, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

What Jack Lindahl said at 1:35: new civil service hires are subject to a year's probationary period, during which they can be fired without cause.

So the Obama team just has to identify the burrowers, and then they can fire them.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on November 22, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

What JoeW said in comment four. IF they can be neither fired nor demoted, transfer them to Ultima Thule and put them in charge of linking paperclips or something equally mindnumbing. Better to keep them there at full salary harmlessly twiddling their thumbs forever amid blizzards or worse than to let them remain in place as the tyrant's poisonous little pills working out his revenge on posterity.

Posted by: Tomm on November 22, 2008 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

One of the myths about civil servants and tenured faculty is that they can't be fired. No, it's just difficult and most managers are unwilling (or unable) to do the work to justify it. "Oh, it'll cost us more time and trouble and attorney's fees than it's worth!" Maybe, if you don't mind setting a long-term precedent that you'll never do anything about it, no matter what.

In the case of Bush burrowers, no one gets instantaneous civil service protection. There is a probationary period. The Obama administration needs to be serious about rooting out unqualified Bush operatives who are trying to hide in civil service. It's clear that many of them are not credible candidates for the positions they hold. Fire them during the probationary period and get them out of there. Those who actually have qualifications (really, how many of those are there?) can be packed off to offices in McMurdo, where they can ooh and aah about how Antarctica refutes global warming while their asses freeze off. They'll be happy.

Posted by: Zeno on November 22, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of the agencies cited in the burrowing examples are Energy and NOAA (being heavily engaged in global warming adaptations and forestalling). These are areas already deemed by President Elect Obama to be extremely important in his new administration. So important that, high performance from the managers and administrators in these agencies will be demanded and expected. Obama is not one to allow his team to be taken down because someone within is sabotaging it or is too clueless to do the job.

The unqualified Bushies in key departments will stick out like a sore thumb in a very short period of time. Those non-performers will be: 1.) sacked, if within the probationary period mentioned above; 2.)put on performance-probation with a deadline driven improvement goals reporting to someone who will be on their ass; 3.) reassigned to a position where they are out of the loop completely.

It's hard to say what will happen to unqualified Bushies in non-key areas. Perhaps if they keep a low profile and do not try to disrupt the application of Obama's policies, they will survive.

The DOJ may be the exception to all of this. Now that Gonzales, Rove, Goodling, Sampson, and Griffin have made it into something akin to the fundamentalist version of a Soviet Style politbureau, it is vitally important that Obama and Holder restore the law of the land as the supreme force behind its actions. The Bushies whose 'qualifications' are JD's from low tier televangical universities and zealous membership in the neo-con wing of the Republican party should be routed out, pronto. That cancer should be cut out of the body. Period.

Posted by: jcricket on November 22, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

It's a bit of a myth that "burrowing" is a standard procedure. The truth is that until the Bush administration, the executive branch did not excessively meddle with the civil service employees which constitute the "core" in the US government. These people were instead expected to remain apolitical and concentrate on efficient administration and execution of government duties.

Now, I also know that it is a common perception that the government is ineffective and wasteful, but that is a myth put out the by Reagan Republicans which is extremely easy to make as a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I will be the first to agree - the Republicans DO NOT BELIEVE in effective governance and are DESTRUCTIVE AND INCOMPETENT when put in charge.

Most civil servants work hard and do the best they can. They cannot help it if the people in charge are a bunch of incompetent boobs. They are now chomping at the bit to help right the ship of state.

Posted by: Glen on November 22, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

jcricket at 3:40 :

Yes, yes. The focus on DOJ must be iterated and reiterated. Just reading the post and comments here I get the feeling that the most important part of the work of fumigating these roaches, noticing and tracking their movement, appears to be happening. But the primary focus has to be defenestrating the Goodling crew, pronto. I also really like the idea of making Bushbots the public face of thoroughly progressive policies (coltergeist at 2:21 PM ). Nice touch.

Posted by: Conrad's Ghost on November 22, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

The "burrowed" won't be hard to find.

Based on what I've read here, it's a lot like the Sesame St game, "What thing is not like the others?"

It'll be the one who is so beyond their depth or the one who still has the picture of Preznit Dick Cheney hanging from their office.

Then ship them to the Research station in Antarctica.

Posted by: Former Dan on November 22, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think I have some expertise here, since I'm a Federal employee of 22 years duration, and fairly high up in the bureaucracy.

Other posters are correct: As newly appointed "GS" career civil servants those who burrow will be under a one-year probabtion. During that time they can be let go for essentially any reason unless the dismissal involves overt racial, ethnic, national origin, or gender discrimination.

Other posters are correct that these folks WILL have supervisors. If I were assigned a burrowee to supervise, and they were unqualified, I would make damned sure their performance contracts were very very explicit in requiring professional-level performance. If the burrowee couldn't perform (a government affairs major from Liberty University can't publish in the Journal Of Environmental Economics, perhaps) then they'd still be subject to dismissal.

In my case, being a snarky Gay man, I'd make sure that the burrowees duties would include such assignments as "Interagency coordination of steering committees to crosswalk policies and procedures to establish pre-meeting agendas for implementation of celebrations of Gay Pride Month." If you do it carefully, you can stay within the letter (if not exactly the spirit) of Federal employment law through creative use of the "other duties as assigned" power of Supervisors to keep the burrowees out of harms way (and throroughly miserable) with ludicrious tasks.

Posted by: eeyore on November 22, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

These guys are not the brightest bulbs. Here are a few simple ways to dig them out of their burrows.

Send a broadcast email to all federal employees with the subject line, "What is it about President Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

Fire everyone who responds.

Fire everyone who lists Bob Jones University or Regent Law School on their resume.

Posted by: Winkandanod on November 22, 2008 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

The specific examples are absurd to the point of parody go beyond Bush and Companies close partners.

A few week ago Laura Ingram, of hate radio types did make a prediction that came true. Take your money out of the stock market because it is going to dive to new lows we have not seen in a long time. As for me, listening to her and many others on WIND and ABC, WLS that program Hannity hate style were they are cranking up those hate harmonics, talking about how “now” this economy is Obama’s fault. Then we hear Chris Mathews in his rant talking down every minute and every chance to diminish Clinton’s success for the Secretary of State position. Then flip occasionally that Hillary Clinton would likely be brilliant in that position. Here, Chris Mathews is playing both sides like an Arab.

Obama, or Clinton coming from a meager family that in no way has an anchored core of corruption with decades of connections that could match the Bush’s. Fabricating the ideal those twelve years of Republican Congressional, and Senate control handily giving Bush and Company, the “Decider” all the needed ignition and fuel to “Waco” America and the world.

Simply put yes the American banking is centering right and no one wants to do business with Bush and Company. For me that’s the real meaning of the credit crunch.

Especially Rush Limbaugh adds to my own personal feeling there is no such thing as Right, Center or Left. It is more like the old fashion ideal the way Bush put it; you with me or against me. Obviously cable news across the spectrum is a key player that have been covering up Bush and Companies major flaws, which are just plain old deceit with all the trimmings of profiteering tied closely with family and friends with the Arabs Bin Laden group.

For me America fought a proxy war where the Arabs had been in the ear of Bush for this past eight years and its over. A disgusting rage of fear mongering has shifted from Iraq and the terrorist to the money market “Greed Growth” economy through profiteering uncertainty and a market developing that treachery of fear we hear daily. All marked to create opportunity with those that have big money to buy out those who have to sell out.

No America we don’t have a free market, never had one, isn’t it obvious that the political structure, or the government drive the economy with the Jekyll island group, the Federal Reserve and it has not worked for the middle class, ever.

We the people are supposed to be the government. However when a few forces like CEO’s that get millions in bonus money even though a company goes bankrupt is very ass backwards, yet, shows the complicity Bush has with this kind of culture. For Bush in past decades he has taken money directly from the very primer financers of Arab Wahabbi that have committed crimes right here in America and the middle east. Giving way to huge contract in contradictions with a blind eye to cultural development for all, just to build his own account. So it is reasonable our whole system is flooded with this creepy greed growth economic flim flam created with old buddy placement for that very reason, to bilk tax money. Obama has a monument chore of change to put those that abused the Whitehouse into the big house. If Obama has that spin of steel this should be fun to watch.

Posted by: Megalomania on November 22, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

(1) New GS appointees have a 1 year probationary period, and can be terminated in that period for almost any reason.

(2) Or, we can transfer them all to Guam. (Alaska, suggested above, is too close.) Actually, I think the outer islands of the Marianas Commonwealth would be better. They can count taro plants. Or fish.

Posted by: Robert the Red on November 22, 2008 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

Who appoints these guys to the civil service? I thought the CS was a merit system where you had to go thru a competitive process.

Posted by: crimelord on November 22, 2008 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

I was in the Federal Government (NOAA) during both the Bush-I to Clinton and the Clinton to Bush II transitions. When Bush II came in I remember getting government-wide emails from OMB asking federal employees to report instances of burrowing by Clinton appointees.

In point of fact, in a scientific agency such as NOAA, Clinton's few political appointments were pretty much highly qualified and dedicated science/policy types who were right for the jobs anyway. And in the cases I was familiar with, burrowing was probably the wrong term as the individuals were well qualified to jump into the permanent positions they were hired into. I didn't encounter anything like a 30 year old liberal arts degree college Republican jumping into a high level science policy job.

That said, I'm pretty unconcerned about all this. The Federal government is very large and the total number of political appointees is quite small. And most of them are going to move on anyway into more lucrative private sector or think tank jobs. Political appointees are, by definition, connected. The few who do decide to stay are unlikely to have any substantive effect on policy. Everyone will know who they are and should they chose not to do their jobs it will quickly be dealt with. I left Federal service in 2005 but if I was still there and found one of these incompetents under me I'd keep them busy doing tasks like reading endless piles of government reports and providing me with summaries. Incompetent burrowers will cost the government their salaries. But that's about it.

Far more troubling are the hundreds of Bush regulations being rammed through the pipeline. Obama's people will be spending years untangling that mess. Regulations are, by design, cumbersome and time consuming to implement. Reversing them is equally so.

Posted by: Kent on November 23, 2008 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

It is true about the one year probationary period, and also very humorously trus that many of the Bush rules that were definitely not labor-friendly will make these ticks easy to pull off the dog of government. Sad that the ideology of the right isn't such a good thing for job longevity, huh?

Posted by: Sparko on November 23, 2008 at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK

Kent, thanks for your insight.

Posted by: rege on November 23, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Send a broadcast email to all federal employees with the subject line, "What is it about President Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

Fire everyone who responds.

Just like the Simpsons episode where Homer cloned himself and he took the clones out to some corn fields. He asked, "Anyone who remembers how to get home raise your hand." and then shot them with a shot gun.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on November 23, 2008 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Watch out for the OPM delegation ploy, where OPM delegates examining authority back to the originating agency -- see http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2008/11/23/the-wrecking-crew-digs-in/

Posted by: Mike Licht on November 24, 2008 at 3:20 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