GAO Study Finds Improper Burrowing During Bush Years

A study by the Government Accountability Office has found seven instances of improper burrowing — political appointees shifting to career civil servant positions in a given agency — during the Bush Administration, though none of the seven occurred close to the 2008 presidential election.

Regular TPMmuckraker readers will remember our reporting on burrowing back in late 2008 when several Bush Administration officials made eyebrow-raising shifts to career positions.

The GAO did an exhaustive study of these so-called “conversions” from political to career positions between May 2005 and May 2009. It found 139 conversions in that period, with the most — 32 — occurring at the Justice Department, and the second-most, 17, occurring at the Department of Homeland Security. The GAO found the vast majority, 117, followed “fair and open competition” and proper procedures to ensure that the conversions were justified.

In one of seven cases where the GAO found improper burrowing, a special assistant in the Office of Congressional & Legislative Affairs of the Department of Veterans Affairs — who worked in that position from January 2001 to May 2007 — became a program analyst in the Office of Information and Technology, despite “limited qualifications and experience.” The GAO study concludes:

The vacancy announcement required one year of specialized experience, which was defined as a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of qualitative and or quantitative methods for the assessment and improvement of agencywide IT program effectiveness or the improvement of complex management processes and systems. The eventual selectee’s resume does not demonstrate that he had the specialized experience required, either in terms of the assessment or improvement of IT programs or the improvement of complex management processes and systems.

Here, GAO describes the seven cases that raised red flags (for context, a Schedule C position is a politically appointed policy-making position):

In one case, it appears the Department of Veterans Affairs appointed a Schedule C employee who lacked the specialized experience requirements for the position.

In one case, it appears the Department of the Treasury appointed a Schedule C employee to a career position although he lacked the required specialized experience.

In one case it appears the Department of Justice appointed a Schedule C appointee to a career position despite unfavorable recommendations from interviewing officials.
In two instances, it appears agencies afforded unfair advantages to applicants for career positions.

It appears the Department of the Air Force pre-selected a Schedule C appointee to a career position, giving the political appointee an unfair advantage in the competitive process.

The Office of Special Counsel did not follow its own attorney recruitment and hiring procedures and noncompetitively converted the political appointee. Both the official solely responsible for the conversion (the former Special Counsel) and the convertee are both no longer with the agency.

In one instance, an agency processed a conversion despite the appearance that ethical standards may have been violated.

The U.S. Marshals Service of the Department of Justice allowed a political appointee to authorize the vacancy announcement for a career position that the political appointee ultimately applied for and was selected to. According to Justice, the agency’s ethics officer is gathering information on this conversion and, based on the information she receives, her office will take the appropriate next steps.

The Department of Veterans Affairs advertised a career position as a 4- year term appointment but placed the selectee into a permanent position.

In 18 cases, the GAO found insufficient information to determine whether proper procedures were followed.

Here’s the full report. Appendix IV details the improper cases.

GAO Report On Political To Career Conversions

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