Every presidential administration tries to use its final moments to ensure that it will have a lasting effect on the government. The Bush administration is no different -- on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported on some of its efforts in that direction. In several federal agencies, the Post revealed, political appointees are shifting into permanent civil service positions. These moves, termed “burrowing,” shield agency staff from replacement, and leave a ghost of the Bush administration inside the federal bureaucracy.
From the paper's story:
Between March 1 and November 3, twenty political appointees have become career civil servants. One staffer at HUD is attempting to burrow, two at the Labor Department have already, and six Interior Department staffers have as well. The moves at Interior are especially troubling to administration critics, says the Post, because they include appointees who have drawn the ire of environmentalists...
Robert D. Comer, who was Rocky Mountain regional solicitor, was named to the civil service post of associate solicitor for mineral resources. Matthew McKeown, who served as deputy associate solicitor for mineral resources, will take Comer's place in what is also a career post. Both had been converted from political appointees to civil service status.
In a report dated Oct. 13, 2004, Interior's inspector general singled out Comer in criticizing a grazing agreement that the Bureau of Land Management had struck with a Wyoming rancher, saying Comer used "pressure and intimidation" to produce the settlement and pushed it through "with total disregard for the concerns raised by career field personnel." McKeown -- who as Idaho's deputy attorney general had sued to overturn a Clinton administration rule barring road-building in certain national forests -- has been criticized by environmentalists for promoting the cause of private property owners over the public interest on issues such as grazing and logging.
One career Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his position, said McKeown will "have a huge impact on a broad swath of the West" in his new position... "It is an attempt by the outgoing administration to limit as much as possible [the incoming administration's] ability to put its policy imprint on the Department of Interior," the official said.
It’s common for burrowing to occur at the end of a presidency; in its last 12 months, the Clinton administration allowed 47 appointees to burrow. Of course, conservationist rules promulgated by an agency can always be overturned, but logging, fishing and mining can’t be undone.