Bush burrowing

BUSH BURROWING…. Michelle Cottle noted this morning, “Jeez. Looks like it’s going to take a Brill-O pad and a round of antibiotics to rid ourselves of the Bushies.” It’s true; we’re dealing with a team anxious to leave its mark for a very long time.

Just weeks before leaving office, the Interior Department’s top lawyer has shifted half a dozen key deputies — including two former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions — into senior civil service posts.

The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called “burrowing” by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.

Similar efforts are taking place at other agencies. Two political hires at the Labor Department have already secured career posts there, and one at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is trying to make the switch.

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 One candidate was turned down by OPM and two were withdrawn by the submitting agency.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.

If you read one newspaper article today, read this one. It’s the kind of piece that highlights a policy of lasting significance.

It wasn’t a surprise when the Bush administration placed a bunch of industry lobbyists in political offices throughout the government, but there’s an expectation that new political appointees would replace them once there’s a new president. Lots of Bushies, however, are “burrowing” — becoming career employees, who are very hard to replace, giving them a chance to keep up their work well into the future.

To be fair, Bush isn’t the first president to pursue a burrowing strategy; eight years ago, Clinton was making similar moves.

But as Yglesias noted, “[A]s with all bad aspects of the American political system, George W. Bush seems determined to make things worse…. [B]asically we’ll have the top layer of the civil service filled with industry shills.”