- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

The Olympics regularly add new events, but in Washington’s version of quadrennial games, only two skills are required: burrowing and leaping.

Burrowing — disappearing or reducing one’s profile — and leaping, which requires friends in high places, are usually mastered by political appointees who decide life as a civil servant is a pretty good deal.

Democrats do it. Republicans do it. And peak season is just around the corner, because after the next presidential election, political appointees will be frozen in place and marked for termination.

In fact, from May 2001 until April of last year, at least 144 political appointees burrowed into civil-service jobs in which they are virtually fire-proof. Had they stayed in their old slots, as politicals, they would almost certainly have faced unemployment as of January 2008.

Sometimes, the most enthusiastic burrower and leaper is a political appointee who at one time had nothing but contempt for bureaucrats and the bureaucracy. But after four to eight years inside the government — with a growing 401(k) plan — where there is more security than in the private sector, many politicals see the light and convert.

When Democrats control the White House (as in the Clinton years), Republicans carefully monitor federal agencies for signs of burrowing and leaping. They want the agencies and individuals identified and, if possible, hung out to dry.

When Republicans control the White House (like now), Democrats are the guardians of the career civil service. They, too, call on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to check to see which political zebras are changing their stripes.

Like the crafty French police officer in the movie “Casablanca,” checking for burrowing and leaping is often a matter of rounding up the usual suspects. The GAO goes to agencies with large numbers of political appointees to see the rate of conversion.

This time around, four Cabinet departments surveyed accounted for 66 percent of the converts during the 2001 to 2005 time frame. They were Health and Human Services, with 36; Justice, with 23; Defense, with 21; and Treasury, with 15.

Most of the converts were in Grades 12 through 15. In case you are wondering whether that’s worth it, consider that in the Washington-Baltimore area, that pay ranges from $65,048 to $139,774.

The salaries are even higher for politicals who leapt and burrowed, or simply burrowed, into jobs in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston.

Eyes and teeth

Beginning next year, federal workers and retirees who are willing to pay extra will be able to purchase much-improved dental and eye care coverage.

The open season for both the regular Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and the separate and optional dental and eye care policy will be from early November to early December.

Workers and retirees will be notified about premiums and coverage for both plans shortly before the enrollment period. The government will continue to pay an average of 72 percent of the total FEHBP premium. But workers and retirees will have to shoulder the entire cost of the to-be-announced premiums for the optional dental and eye care policies.

Mike Casey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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