Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The Washington Post reports that the Solicitor of the Interior Department has shifted half a dozen key political appointees – including Robert Comer known for his opposition to the roadless rule and a questionable grazing agreement as well as Matthew McKeown, a mining industry darling – into senior civil service posts. These transfers, called "burrowing," allows political appointees to stay in the government and create obstacles to changing policy direction. Perhaps the practice should be called "land-mining," given its potential for derailing the peaceful transfer of power:
Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, 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. One candidate was turned down by OPM and two were withdrawn by the submitting agency. 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.
As the Washington Post goes on to report, the practice is not an invention of the Bush administration. However, there has seldom been so striking a change in public sentiment between the 2004 Bush re-election and the precipitous decline in public regard for Bush as manifest in the Obama "tsunami" -- and thus so much reason to jettison the flotsom and jetsom of the Bush years.
The practice of placing political appointees into permanent civil service posts before an administration ends is not new. In its last 12 months, the
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...In a report dated Oct. 13, 2004, Interior's inspector general singled out Comer in criticizing a grazing agreement that the Bureau of Land Management had struck with a Wyoming rancher, saying Comer used "pressure and intimidation" to produce the settlement and pushed it through "with total disregard for the concerns raised by career field personnel." McKeown -- who as
's deputy attorney general had sued to overturn a
administration rule barring road-building in certain national forests -- has been criticized by environmentalists for promoting the cause of private property owners over the public interest on issues such as grazing and logging....One career Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his position, said McKeown will "have a huge impact on a broad swath of the West" in his new position, advising the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service on "all the programs they implement." Comer, the official added, will help shape mining policy in his new assignment. "It is an attempt by the outgoing administration to limit as much as possible [the incoming administration's] ability to put its policy imprint on the Department of Interior," the official said...But environmental advocates, and some rank-and-file Interior officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of hurting their careers, said the reassignments represent the Bush administration's effort to leave a lasting imprint on environmental policy...."What's clear is they could have done this during the eight years they were in office. Why are they doing it now?" said Robert Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, an advocacy group. "It's pretty obvious they're trying to leave in place some of their loyal foot soldiers in their efforts to reduce environmental protection."