Administration Moves to Protect Key Appointees
Political Cronies Shifted To Career Civil Service Jobs
Bureaucracy comes with built-in problems. But is so much bureaucracy needed? Instead of regulating, what if we amended the constitution to proclaim our rights to both land in good health and a fair share of land’s value? We’d enforce our rights in a few court cases with meaningful penalties. In that legal world, anyone putting others at risk would carry insurance, and insurance companies would promote the clean alternatives, just as now they promote fire safety and smoke detectors to keep down costs. With private firms taking over the task, we could trim bureaucracy to a bare minimum. This 2008 article is from the Washington Post of Nov 18. The authors are staff writers.
By Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. LeonnigJust 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 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.
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.
The practice of placing political appointees into permanent civil service posts before an administration ends is not new. In its last 12 months, the Clinton administration approved 47 such moves, including seven at the senior executive level. Federal employees with civil service status receive job protections that make it very difficult for managers to remove them.
Most of the personnel shifts have been done on a case-by-case basis, but Interior Solicitor David L. Bernhardt moved to place six deputies in senior agency positions with one stroke, including two who have repeatedly attracted controversy. Robert D. Comer used "pressure and intimidation" to produce a settlement with a Wyoming rancher and pushed it through "with total disregard for the concerns raised by career field personnel." Matthew McKeown -- who as Idaho's deputy attorney general had sued to overturn a Clinton administration rule barring road-building in certain national forests -- promotes absentee ownership over the public interest on issues such as grazing and logging.
Career Interior officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their position, said the reassignments represent the Bush administration's effort to leave in place some of their loyal foot soldiers to create a lasting imprint on environmental policy and limit as much as possible the ability of the incoming administration to protect the environment.
One senior Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said an incoming interior secretary or solicitor could create new political positions upon taking office and could shift Senior Executive Service officials to comparable jobs within a few months, but they retain their lucrative and permanent government posts.
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.
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."
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