John Berry, President Obama's director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), has issued a new directive that is clearly designed to weed out any Bush administration political appointees who “careered-into” the civil service.
The directive also effectively establishes a partisan political factor in hiring for career civil service positions in the federal bureaucracy. Berry's agency oversees the federal government's 1.9 million career civil servants.
The OPM was created during the Carter administration to replace the old Civil Service Commission, which was once headed by Teddy Roosevelt in his pre-White House days. The career service was intended to end the spoils system in which federal jobs were used by presidents to reward supporters.
In double-speak language that would make a Soviet apparatchik blush, Berry justifies his directive as merely an attempt to prevent political interference of the career civil service:
“Beginning January 1, 2010, agencies must seek prior approval from OPM before they can appoint a current or recent political appointee to a competitive or non-political excepted service position at any level under the provisions of title 5, United States Code.
“OPM will review these proposed appointments to ensure they comply with merit system principles and applicable civil service laws. I have delegated decisionmaking authority over these matters to career Senior Executives at OPM to avoid any hint of political influence.”
In fact, federal agencies have long been required to secure OPM approval before filling a career position with an individual who came into the federal government as either an executive branch political appointee or a congressional staff member. And career Senior Executive Service (SES) employees at OPM have always been involved in the agency's review of such proposed hires.
So Berry is literally saying nothing new while presenting it as if it is new. What is actually new, however, is Berry's subtle introduction of a partisan political standard in the process under the guise of a time limit:
“In no case may an agency make an appointment of the type described below without written authorization from OPM:
“A. The appointment of a current political Schedule A or Schedule C Executive Branch employee or a former political Schedule A or Schedule C Executive Branch employee who held the position within the last five years to a competitive or non-political excepted service position under title 5 of the U.S. Code.
“B.The appointment of a current Non-career SES Executive Branch employee or a former Non-career SES Executive Branch employee who held the position within the last five years to a competitive or non-political excepted service position under title 5 of the U.S. Code.”
In other words, if you worked for President Bush in the executive branch at any time during his second term in the White House, you may not be approved. The same applies if you worked for a Republican Member of Congress at any point during the past five years.
Amazingly, even Berry had to acknowledge in his directive that political appointees cannot be barred from career positions because of their political views. The whole point of the career service, after all, is to insure that federal workers are hired on the basis of merit, not their political views.
But by introducing a time factor that may disqualify an individual, Berry effectively creates a semi-covert political factor in the hiring process.
If you are wondering who is John Berry, you can read his official here. Note that he spent a decade handling civil service issues for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Prior to beginning my career as a journalist, I was a Reagan political appointee in the Senior Executive Service (SES). My job was assistant director for public affairs at OPM, which I held from November 1982 to June 1985. I was thus the fourth generation of my family to serve in the federal government, a fact of which I am quite proud.
I also learned a great deal about the federal bureaucracy and how it works. There are many, many civil servants who are dedicated, hard-working people who serve this nation well. There are also people in the ranks who are time-servers, incompetents, and chronic complainers.
The fundamental problem is the same today, as it was two decades ago when I served at OPM, four decades ago when my father served in the federal bureaucracy and for decades before that: It is all but impossible to fire a career federal employee, thanks to well-meaning but overly strict protections against political inteference in the day-to-day operation of the government.
HT: Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit
UPDATE: Erick Erickson sees coming purge, too
RedState.com's Erick Erickson also sees an Obama effort to purge the federal government's workforce of all Bush political appointees and former Republican staffers from Congress. Erick notes that “no one is allowed to stand in the way of Barack Obama’s agenda, including his own bureaucracy. This is what happens in third world kleptocracies and totalitarian regimes.”
As Erick adds, “this is scary stuff.”