Tuesday, November 04, 2008


It's election day. Fina-freakin'-ly. If you haven't already done so, do your country a favor and go vote.

Not that a change in administration is in and of itself going to end the problems our nation faces (a bankrupt economy, a bankrupt foreign policy, a bankrupt domestic policy). The new president, and I do believe that history will be made today and "That One" will will be "The One," has a miserably difficult four years (at least) ahead of him. He's going to need a strong administration and a competent executive branch just to start the brush clearing. And getting that strong administration and competent executive branch just might be the first problem he has to face. There's a lot "dead wood" which might not be so dead that will have to be cleared away.

Remember all of those presidential appointees chosen for their unswerving loyalty to George Bush and the Republican Party? Well, they might not have to go anywhere under the new administration. Joe Davidson's Washington Post column, Federal Diary, explains why this might be so.

As the political climate changes, officials appointed by the outgoing administration are looking for a safe place to nest. For some, that would be a career position in a new administration run by John McCain or Barack Obama.

Moving from an appointed position to a career job is known as burrowing in. It's not illegal and often not inappropriate, but it can look like the fix is in for the anointed to get the gig.

And this is burrowing season.

The burrowing has a more technical term in government circles: conversion. A political appointee applies to have his appointed position converted to a career position, thereby making him a civil servant with all the job protection that implies. This does more than "look like the fix is in," it stinks.

To the extent conversions happen at all, "it just undermines the sense of fair play and the rules of the game," said Donald F. Kettl, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist. "It's definitely a troublesome thing because it undermines the confidence people have in the system."

It will do more than undermine our confidence, however. The new president is going to be stuck with whole slew of Bushies, people who mismanaged FEMA and thereby lost an American city, who rewrote regulations and thereby poisoned the food supply, who granted no-bid federal contracts to their buddies and cost the government billions of dollars in wasteful and shoddy construction. Most importantly, many of them are rabid ideologues who would have no compunction in undercutting the new president's agenda any way they can.

Now, Mr. Davidson makes clear that there are safeguards in place to prevent any egregious abuses. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is supposed to keep a sharp eye on the process.

To guard against this, the Office of Personnel Management sent a letter months ago to heads of federal departments and agencies. It outlined the procedures for moving employees from appointed to career status. "During this presidential election year," wrote former OPM director Linda M. Springer, "I would like to remind agency heads of the need to ensure all personnel actions remain free of political influence or other improprieties and meet all relevant civil service laws, rules and regulations."

OPM prohibited agencies from appointing certain categories of officials to career or competitive positions before the personnel agency had a chance to review the appointment.

OPM also clamped the lid on the cookie jar, reminding officials of regulations that say those employees may not get an incentive award for the period from June 1 until Jan. 20, 2009.

I am somehow not soothed by such pro-active letters. I would much prefer the whole process be thrown out with the current occupiers of the White House. If an appointee is so knowledgeable, so competent, so experienced that he or she is ideal for the job, then let him or her apply for the job, either by the traditional civil service route or by applying with the new administration.

We don't need any moles, especially of the current stripe.



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