Are political appointees 'burrowing' into the bureaucracy?

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Republican members of Congress have asked the Government Accountability Office to ensure that political appointees who move into career positions in the federal government do so based on merit.

"The possibility that political appointees are 'burrowing in' -- through favoritism in the selection process, effectively taking civil positions that would otherwise be open to the public and awarded based on merit -- may affect the integrity of the merit-based federal workforce," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

The lawmakers want a review of political appointee conversions to career civil service positions that examines the number and type of conversions, an explanation of the outcome of each pre-employment review, the status of any corrective action requested, a list of appointees who have been converted into nonpolitical service, the Office of Personnel Management's analysis of conversions and an explanation of issues involving any agency that "may not have followed appropriate procedures."

The lawmakers, who lead the commerce and oversight committees in the House and Senate, also requested an assessment of how effective OPM's policy is regarding this matter.

Since 2010, OPM has required all agencies to seek approval before moving a political appointee into a career position. But the policy has not been re-evaluated to see how effective it has been or if changes need to be made.

GAO has not reported on the conversions of political appointees to career positions since June 2010. In that probe, 26 of the 42 departments and agencies selected for review reported converting 139 political appointees from May 1, 2005, through May 30, 2009. Seven of those conversions might have had some improprieties, and 18 lacked documentation, according to GAO.

The lawmakers' letter asks GAO to review Schedule A and Schedule C executive branch appointees who moved into the ranks of the civil service from June 1, 2009, through Oct. 1, 2015.

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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