- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

Burrowing them out

(Corrected paragraph:) The Office of Personnel Management will soon start reviewing political appointees who “burrow in” to federal career jobs, according a memo issued by Director John Berry to all government agencies and executive departments.

“Burrowing in” is what Beltway insiders call it when someone who was appointed by say, President George W. Bush, leaves an appointed position to take a career job inside the government.

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“While political appointees may not be excluded from consideration for federal jobs because of their political affiliation, they must not be given preference or special advantages,” Mr. Berry said in his memo, issued Nov. 5. “I believe we must hold ourselves and the government to a higher standard, one that honors and supports the president’s strong commitment to a government that is transparent and open.”

The memo stated that “in no case may an agency make an appointment” without authorization from OPM of any current executive branch employee or former executive branch employee who held that position within the past five years, which covers appointees named by Mr. Bush and President Obama. The new policy takes effect Jan. 1.

Some of Mr. Obama’s critics view the memo with suspicion, like RedState.com co-founder Erick Erickson, who said it’s evidence the Obama administration “intends to purge all Republicans from the federal bureaucracy retroactive to five years ago.”

Meanwhile, high-ranking Democrats have viewed GOP “burrowers” with suspicion.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, both members of the Judiciary Committee, complained in a letter sent to Mr. Bush on Nov. 19, just weeks after Mr. Obama won the election, that 20 appointees had become career civil servants from March 1 to Nov. 3 of that year.

They charged that “senior members of your administration are undermining your public commitment to ease the transition by reorganizing agencies at the eleventh hour and installing political appointees in key positions for which they may not be qualified.”

Before the Berry memo was issued, agencies were already required to seek approval for accepting non-career appointees for career jobs during what’s called the “presidential review period” that takes place during an election year. During the last election cycle that review period lasted from March 17, 2008, until Jan. 20, 2009.

If an employee could wait to convert outside that period, however, no formal authorization would be needed from OPM. Now, because of Mr. Berry’s memo, they will be subjected to it.

The Government Accountability Office has periodically examined these conversions and issued recommendations on handling converts. A February 2002 report found that 111 former political appointees and congressional employees “burrowed in” between Oct. 1, 1998, and April 30, 2001, a period that mostly covers the end of the Democratic Clinton administration.

A May 2006 report found that between May 2001 and April 2005, the period comprising Mr. Bush’s first term and the beginning of his second term, 144 political appointees obtained career jobs to positions at 23 government agencies. Four of them - the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and the Treasury Department - accounted for 66 percent of the conversions.

GAO public affairs told The Washington Times that investigators were working on a new report to be issued in May 2010, although an interim report could be issued in January 2010, identifying later other converts.

Gitmo study

A leading liberal think tank says President Obama should push back his deadline to close Guantanamo Bay from Jan. 20 to July 2010, citing “unforeseen obstacles” and stating that the “new administration has made some mistakes.”

The Center for American Progress, which has many ties to high-ranking White House officials, released a report that said flatly “closing Guantanamo has not gone as smoothly as the Obama Administration had hoped” and mapped out a course of action for it to adopt.

In the report, the Washington-based CAP said it would only be possible to meet the deadline by putting the detainees into temporary, make-shift detention centers, which are not a proper solution.

“It is hard enough to construct a permanent solution to Guantanamo without also having to craft a temporary one,” it said. “It would also be a logistical nightmare to shift the detainees and attendant personnel more than once.”

Thus, “the reality is that we are going to miss the deadline,” the report said.

CAP proposed announcing a new deadline of July 22 with a comprehensive plan that included criteria for prosecuting the detainees, a legal basis for continuing detention, and a strategy to win approval from Congress.

Claiming the scalp

A number of liberal advocacy groups that railed against Lou Dobbs’ segments on illegal immigration are celebrating his abrupt departure from CNN, the network where he worked for 30 years.

Mr. Dobbs unexpectedly announced on his Wednesday night program that it would be his last, citing a desire to “go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem-solving as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day and to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible.”

Mr. Dobbs, a fierce critic of illegal immigration, has been a target of many groups, ranging from liberal media watchdogs to immigration rights organizations who formed the Drop Dobbs Coalition.

Andres Ramirez, senior vice president for the New Democrat Network and coordinator for the Drop Dobbs Coalition, stated, “This is a great victory for all of us who have been working on this effort. We believe that Lou Dobbs’ intolerant style of politics is inconsistent with the powerful and respected CNN brand. We are glad to see him go.”

Other Drop Dobbs members cheering his departure included Media Matters, the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@ washingtontimes.com.

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