Bush Cronyism Weakens Government Agencies
Posted on Truthout
Friday 30 September 2005
The ranks of political appointees in the US government have surged under President George W. Bush after falling during the Clinton administration, sparking concern - especially since Hurricane Katrina - that career professionals are being crowded out of key jobs.
Federal jobs available to political appointees rose 15 percent to 4,496 last year from 2000, according to the 2004 edition of the "Plum Book," which is published by Congress after each presidential election to list positions up for grabs. Those jobs declined 5 percent during President Bill Clinton's second term, a comparison of the 2000 and 1996 Plum Books shows.
As the Bush administration draws increased scrutiny over the credentials of top-level employees after the hurricane, a review of the record shows the issue goes far beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has borne the brunt of criticism for its fumbling response to the disaster.
"The larger that number becomes, the more likely you're going to have someone come up with a problem," said Terry Sullivan, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who studies how the White House works.
"It is quite surprising that Bush turned out to be more politicizing than Clinton," Sullivan said. "The Bush campaign was built around how they were the governors, not the politicians."
Under Bush, political appointees have penetrated deeper into agencies, creating more levels of bureaucracy. The biggest growth has been in jobs that don't require Senate confirmation, which rose by almost one-quarter between 2000 and 2004.
Focus on FEMA
Michael Brown, 50, a former commissioner of an Arabian horse association, stepped down this month as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under pressure from lawmakers who criticized his lack of emergency-management credentials.
Under Bush, the job of heading FEMA's recovery division went to a former lobbyist, after previously being reserved for career employees. The chief of staff position was given to a presidential advance man, Patrick Rhode; his Clinton-era counterpart was a career official with more than two decades of experience.
From the Food and Drug Administration to the Energy Department, positions for career officials at top levels have been eliminated. The FDA's top lawyer until the Bush administration had been a career official. In 2001, that job went to an appointee, who wasn't subject to Senate confirmation. Daniel Troy, who got the job, once represented drug and tobacco companies. He left the FDA in 2004 and is now a partner at a Washington law firm.
'Calling the Shots'
"Normally, the chief counsel of the FDA is someone who comes up through the ranks," said Representative Maurice Hinchey, a New York Democrat, who pushed to have Troy removed. "He has a background of interests that are contrary to the interests he's supposed to have as the chief counsel of the FDA. Essentially, the pharmaceutical industry was calling the shots."
Troy said his post was traditionally a political position that was switched to a career job in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.
"General counsels of major agencies are generally political appointees, which promotes accountability," Troy said. "I know of no one responsible who has ever questioned my qualifications."
Under Clinton, the senior policy adviser for science and technology at the Energy Department was a career official who reported directly to the secretary. Under Bush, the 2004 Plum Book shows the secretary's office entirely made up of political appointees.
The Bush administration has also come under fire for its appointments of David Safavian as the White House's top procurement official and Julie Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Safavian, 38, quit his White House post on Sept. 16 and was arrested three days later in connection with a land deal involving Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist under indictment who continues to be investigated by a Justice Department task force. Safavian's procurement experience consisted of a 20-month stint as chief of staff of the General Services Administration, which maintains federal property and buys supplies.
The last Clinton-era appointee to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Deidre Lee, was previously top procurement official at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and had two decades of experience in the field.
Replacing a Veteran
Myers, 36, the niece of General Richard Myers, the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is married to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, to whom she would report, the Washington Post reported. She would replace acting agency head John Clark, a 25-year veteran of the field.
Myers has served as assistant commerce secretary and chief of staff to an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, among other positions. From 1999 to 2001, she was a federal prosecutor in New York. In an interview with CBS News, Chertoff said Myers was a "superbly qualified former prosecutor."
The White House doesn't plan to review the way it fills jobs, said Clay Johnson III, who oversaw presidential appointments when Brown, who then held FEMA's No. 2 job, was named director in 2003.
"The appointments work done by this president is as fine as has ever been done," said Johnson, who was Bush's roommate at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and is now deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. "And I believe that Mike Brown was properly selected to be the head of FEMA. He had served really well as the general counsel of FEMA. He served unbelievably well for two years as the head of FEMA."
Johnson, who hired Safavian, said he was the "most qualified person" he interviewed for the procurement job.
US Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm, said "there needs to be more emphasis on the qualifications of individuals that have key positions."
A 2003 commission led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker recommended the president cut the number of jobs available in the Plum Book, which was first published in 1952 to help people find "plum" jobs in the incoming administration of President Dwight Eisenhower.
"Talented and experienced senior career managers find themselves forced further and further away from the centers of decision-making," the commission, a project of the Washington- based Brookings Institution, wrote in its report.
That's because the Bush administration increasingly tends to "drill down into government," making ever-lower-ranking officials political appointees, said Paul Light, a commission adviser and professor of organizational studies at New York University.
That layering "slows information coming up from the bottom, creates vacancies in the chain of command at key points in time and, contrary to their hopes, actually weakens the president's control of government," Light said.
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based group that seeks to bring talented people into government, commended Bush for working to build a government-wide evaluation system for senior executives.
Still, Stier said, "The political positions are infiltrating deep into the system." Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, a professional group that represents top government executives, calls it "political creep."
The universe of federal political appointees goes beyond Cabinet secretaries and their deputies and principal assistants. Lower-level "Schedule C" and other appointed jobs pay at the civil service scale and don't need to be confirmed by the Senate. Their numbers grew 24 percent from 2000 to 2004 and are included in the Plum Book, which is formally known as "United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions."
"We could do twice as good a job with half as many appointees," Light said.