Cummings, Warren ask for GAO study of ‘chaotic’ Trump transition

In the final few weeks of the lame-duck Congress, lawmakers have passed few new bills and have yet to go to conference on the National Defense Authorization Act.

But many lawmakers have been busy putting pen to paper.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have asked the Government Accountability Office to review what they called a “chaotic” transition from President-elect Donald Trump.

Specifically, Cummings and Warren are concerned by “conflicts of interest related to business holdings of Mr. Trump and his family, potential violations of protocol and security precautions related to Mr. Trump’s communications with foreign leaders and transparency related to the use of taxpayer funds in the transition,” according to their Nov. 23 letter to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

The lawmakers also raised questions over “logistical problems” related to the transition and cited reports that some of Trump’s landing teams haven’t begun their work. Landing team leaders are supposed to work with the current administration’s agency transition executives.

Meanwhile, two Republican lawmakers in the past two days have sent warnings to administration leaders about the prospect of political appointees “burrowing in” to career positions in the next administration.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sent a letter to acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert.

“With the results of the presidential election, there could be an increase in attempts by the nearly 4,000 political appointees across the federal government to convert to career positions,” Johnson wrote in a Nov. 21 letter. “I am concerned that, due to the seniority of political appointees at many agencies, there could be pressure to approve these conversions outside the standard merit-based approach to federal hiring.”

Johnson wants weekly updates from OPM about all conversions or requests for conversions, as well as the names, titles and salaries of employees who have converted from political appointments to career status between June 30 and now.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) has similar concerns for DHS, citing examples of past political conversions in 2009.

“Since 2009, DHS converted non-career positions to career Senior Executive Service positions, including, but not limited to, the deputy undersecretary for science and technology and the assistant administrator for response at the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” McCaul wrote in a Nov. 23 letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The DHS Undersecretary for Management’s Office has already given the committee quarterly updates on such conversions, McCaul said. But the chairman is also interested in an update on the number and type of SES promotions that the department has made in recent weeks.

The latest letters from Johnson and McCaul echo similar calls of concern from other lawmakers over the summer before the election.

OPM in January reminded agencies of existing policies to prevent political appointees from “burrowing in” to positions in the career service.

Under current procedure, OPM will review applications of anyone who held a political position within the last five years and wants to continue as a career appointee.

The policies aren’t new and date back to the Carter administration. OPM revised its policy in 2010, opting to conduct pre-hiring reviews on a continual basis rather than during the year before a presidential transition.

Read the latest news about the incoming administration on our Tracking the Transition page.

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