Congressional Republicans warned Mr. Obama last year against moving political appointees into career positions, and President Trump has stated frequently that he believes some employees in the federal workforce are Obama holdovers working against his agenda.
The practice of political appointees “burrowing” into career jobs is permissible when laws and regulations governing career appointments are followed. Administrations prior to the Obama administration also have converted dozens of political appointees into career government jobs.
Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said he requested the GAO report in part “to make sure executive branch employees knew they were being watched for improper burrowing.”
“Still, GAO determined that one out of every five attempts to move a political appointee into a career position was rejected as improper,” Mr. Thune said. “Watchdogs need to stay vigilant, and I intend to seek more information about the individuals who may have led improper hiring initiatives.”
The Department of Homeland Security had the highest number of conversions, nine, followed by the Departments of Justice (eight),
Defense (six), Treasury (five), and Agriculture, Commerce, HHS and the FDIC with four each.
Three of the unapproved cases involved people in posts at the Education Department (a program specialist), at the Department of Health and Human Services (a senior adviser) and at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (a legislative adviser), according to a source briefed in advance on GAO’s review. In all three cases, agencies submitted materials on the conversion cases to OPM for post-appointment reviews.
The GAO report found that OPM approved 78 of 99 requests to convert political appointees to career positions from Jan. 1, 2010, through March 17, 2016. OPM denied 21 requests for varying reasons, such as bypassing qualified veterans, and referred nine denied cases to the Office of Special Counsel.
Of the 78 approved requests, agencies followed through and converted 69 political appointees to career positions.