The Bush administration is placing political appointees at various agencies in more permanent senior civil service positions in order to sustain Bush policy under the Obama administration. The process, as reported by Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig at the Washington Post, is called "burrowing."
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.
Leonnig has been doing stories about federal career employees and their low morale under the Bush Administration (here and here); it appears she is a reporter to read as the Bush Administration makes its predictable efforts to sustain their tragic legacy through the Obama years.
In the current article, Leonnig and Eilperin note that "burrowing" is standard practice from one administration to the next. Clinton burrowed 47 appointees prior to leaving office. But I would add here that that is hardly the whole point.
The "whole point" is better summed up by reviewing some moves made by political appointees at various agencies over the past 8 years.
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
[O]fficials at the headquarters of the space agency repeatedly phoned public affairs officers, who relayed the warning to Dr. Hansen that there would be "dire consequences" if such statements continued, those officers and Dr. Hansen said in interviews.
From the April 2006 Harper's Readings. Also here. An October 17, 2005 email by George Deutsch, a Bush appointee in the NASA public affairs office, to Flint Wild, NASA web designer. It came out that Deutsch lied on his resume about receiving a degree in journalism from Texas A&M and resigned on February 7, 2006:
Okay, Flint, we've got a slight problem here. I like these pieces, they're interesting, but they refer to the "big bang" as if it were law. As you know, the theory that the universe was created by a "big bang" is just that-a theory. It is not proven fact; it is opinion. Yes, the scientific community by and large may share this opinion, but that doesn't make it correct.
-- snip --
[I]it is not NASA's place, nor should it be, to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator. I know the particular context of these pieces doesn't lend itself to getting into this particular debate, and that's fine with me. But we, as NASA, must be diligent here, because this is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would be getting only one half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.
Sorry to get on a soapbox here; I don't mean to. Please edit these stories to reflect that the big bang is but one theory on how the universe began.
October 13, 2005, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website:
The National Park Service has started using a political loyalty test for picking all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.
Civil Rights Hiring Shifted in Bush Era
Conservative Leanings Stressed
by Charlie Savage
[July 23, 2006]
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe.
The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.
Under current law, federal agencies must consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether a project is likely to jeopardize any endangered species or to damage habitat, even if no harm seems likely. This initial review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants in the U.S. listed as threatened or endangered and determines whether a more formal analysis is warranted.
The Interior Department said such consultations are no longer necessary because federal agencies have developed expertise to review their own construction and development projects, according to the 30-page draft obtained by the AP.
"We believe federal action agencies will err on the side of caution in making these determinations," the proposal said.
-- snip --
"We need to focus our efforts where they will do the most good," Kempthorne said in a news conference organized quickly after AP reported details of the proposal. "It is important to use our time and resources to protect the most vulnerable species. It is not possible to draw a link between greenhouse gas emissions and distant observations of impacts on species."
The fact is that in this case "burrowing" is nothing less than Cheney's attempt to keep government drowned in a bathtub, to keep the air dirty, to keep the know-nothings in charge. To keep America from seeing the change it voted for. Returning to today's article:
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.
It appears that the best Cheney can do is slow Obama down, however:
One senior Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters, 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. As a general rule, career SES employees may be reassigned involuntarily within their current commuting area within 15 days, and beyond their commuting area within 60 days, but they retain their lucrative and permanent government posts. When a new agency head is appointed, he or she must wait 120 days before reassigning career SES officials.
An important task in coming months will be to monitor this aspect of the transition; to make sure that nothing is overlooked. The cleansing of the Augean Stables here must be complete.