Obama appointees are "burrowing in" for career government positions

As we prepare to enter into the presidential transition period there is one pressing question on the mind of some government employees: will I stay or will I go? (With all due apologies to The Clash.) For most federal workers the change in management won’t have much effect. They are hired through normal channels and have powerful unions to ensure they stay there for as long as they like. But a second class of government employees consists of those who are appointed by the current administration. They generally don’t enjoy the same level of protection and are often replaced when the new broom sweeps clean.

That doesn’t apply to everyone, though. As the Daily Caller highlighted last week, more than a dozen of these appointees from the Obama administration have quietly made the switch, jumping to the head of the line past those who apply for jobs through the normal application and review process and are preparing to settle in.

Seventeen political Obama appointments across eight different agencies converted to career positions without receiving the required Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approval.

After President Obama leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2017, over 4,000 of his political appointees also vacate their government offices as well. Federal employees prepare for new administrations by converting some of the outgoing White House’s political appointees to permanent career civil servants.

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the most unapproved political to career conversions with six, followed by Health and Human Services (HHS) with three, and the Department of Energy (DOE) with two.

These conversions aren’t illegal so to speak, but they do require prior approval from the Office of Personnel Management. As part of that process you’re supposed to be able to demonstrate why the individual is relatively indispensable compared to some other routine applicant or how the agency’s mission would be harmed by losing them. In this case, the agencies are defending the decisions by saying that personnel had trouble understanding OPM’s policy for the approval process.

I don’t know about you, but if they can’t even understand the job transfer process it sounds to me like they’re either not all that indispensable or your process if badly in need of reform.

This isn’t an unknown “feature” of executive branch traditions, however. It’s a process the feds refer to as “burrowing in” and as Government Executive explains today, it’s not happening on a massive scale, but in one quarter of instances reviewed the required approval was not obtained.

Just 69 appointees “burrowed in” to their agency from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 1 , 2015, from the 32 federal agencies the Government Accountability Office audited. Most were Schedule C — excepted service, appointed workers who serve at the pleasure of the agency head — and non-career Senior Executive Service employees.

Seventeen of the burrowers did not receive approval from the Office of Personnel Management, GAO found, as is required by law. OPM completed post-appointment reviews for 13 of those cases in which the agency did not notify it of the conversion, and denied the switch in four instances. In four cases it did not review, OPM said the employees were no longer in government.

There’s a reason that the new broom sweeps clean and we should demand a bit more accountability from the White House during the transition. Granted, it’s not a huge number of positions, but given where they are working these conversions definitely merit a closer look. Several of them took place in the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees border control) and the Department of Energy, which works hand in hand with other groups on regulatory issues. These are all of concern to conservatives and we don’t need a bunch of Obama appointees hanging around if there’s no reason that they can’t be replaced with workers who are hired through the normal process, or at least by fresh appointees of the new administration.


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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022