Congress presses agencies on ‘burrowing in,’ as Trump suggests he has solution

As some members of Congress continue the conversation around “burrowing in,” the topic is gaining special attention from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent letters to 23 of the 24 agencies under the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act on July 20, asking for details on the number of political appointees who have been converted to career employees between Sept. 1, 2015 to the present. He’s also looking for full sets of documents that explain who has been converted, which agencies and positions were involved and salary information for each conversion.

“Conversions also create morale problems, in that qualified career applicants who lose out on promotions to applicants from the agency’s political staff can rightly wonder if the process was legitimate,” Chaffetz wrote. “The appointing officials must ensure each conversion of a political appointee to a career position results from a fair and open competition. Hiring decisions must be free from political interference, legitimate and justified.”

Chaffetz sent a similar letter to the 24th CFO Act agency in June, the Office of Personnel Management. OPM is in charge of reviewing an employee’s appointment from political appointee to career federal employee.

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The chairman’s letter comes as Chris Christie, the leader of Trump’s transition team, said the campaign was developing a list of federal employees appointed under the Obama administration that a potential Trump administration would fire, according to Reuters.

As Reuters reports, Christie suggested Congress write and pass laws that would make it easier to fire federal employees. He specifically mentioned the practice of “burrowing in” during a private meeting with donors during the Republican National Convention this week.

When asked about Christie’s suggestion, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged the current process agencies must follow to convert political appointees to career employees and said the Obama administration was balancing the need for new leaders and seasoned civil servants.

“The American people are counting on this kind of transition to be effectively managed to enjoy the benefits of protecting institutional knowledge and expertise and maximizing the benefits of fresh thinking and fresh legs and new perspective,” he said during a July 20 press briefing. “And that’s certainly what the President has made a priority as we prepare for a transition that’s set to take place in six months or so.”

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Earlier this year, OPM reminded agencies of the existing procedures they must follow if they want to convert political appointees to career positions in the next administration.

The policies date back to the Carter administration. OPM revised its requirements in 2010, opting to conduct pre-hiring reviews on a continual basis rather than during the year before a presidential transition.

The 2016 Republican Party platform does not specifically mention the practice of “burrowing in,” nor does it mention a congressional push to “purge” federal employees appointed during the Obama administration.

And it does take a tougher stance on federal agency spending and accountability.

“The inability of federal managers to discipline and, if necessary, dismiss problem staff members is an affront to every conscientious worker, as is the misuse of funds for lavish conferences and routine bonuses,” the party’s platform said. “The appointees of a Republican president will work with career managers to end those abuses and enforce high standards for all federal employees.”

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