Burrowing In

November 19, 2008 11:15 a.m.

In response to the stories this week about Bush political appointees burrowing in to career positions in the federal government, we’ve gotten some reader emails that suggest people aren’t entirely clear on how this works — or what the point of it is.

The suggestion that Obama can merely fire these people once he takes office misses the point entirely. The whole reason for burrowing in is to take advantage of the protection of the federal civil service system which is intended to prevent career personnel from being subject to retaliation and removal by the party in power. That’s a good thing.

And, yes, these political appointees-turned-career civil servants will be supervised by the new political appointees that Obama names. So they won’t be able to run amok completely unchecked, but don’t underestimate the ability of well-placed bureaucrats to slow down or even undermine new initiatives.

Late Update: TPM Reader SG raises a separate but related point, which I agree is a factor:

From my point of view, most of the “Burrowing” you are seeing is not about people trying to continue the Bush Jr. Administration’s policies into the Obama Administration. It mostly the fact that these political appointees are facing one of the toughest job markets in the past three decades, and on top of that face zero prospects in getting a job lobbying their former agency because the new political appointees really don’t care what they (or their potential clients) think about any issue. I think this is much more of a kitchen table issue for a select group of people who hitched their wagon to the Bush Administration, and now find out that the horses have been shot and they are in Death Valley. There are no jobs in DC for them outside the government.

So much for drowning it in the bathtub.

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