Reports of potential Bush administration “Burrowing” at DHS

There have been a number of articles and posts drawing attention to possible attempts at “burrowing” by the Bush administration, with DHS getting repeated special mentions.

“Burrowing” is a time-honored political tradition where the positions of political appointees are converted to career public service positions before the end of an administration, enabling those political appointees to keep their jobs and continue the influence of the previous administration after the new administration takes over.  Civil servants in career positions are afforded a number of job protections that makes them hard to remove, making it difficult for appointees of the new administration to remove burrowers.

Here’s a few articles on the subject:

But it’s not like this was entirely unexpected:

It’s also not unique to the Bush administration, as Mother Jones notes:

  • Mother Jones: The Clinton administration left behind its own crop of ideological holdovers, and near the close of George H.W. Bush’s presidency scores of political appointees attempted to burrow, some going so far as to disguise their allegiance by taking photos of Bush off their walls. Beleaguered civil servants, meanwhile, have been known to compile “lizard” lists identifying burrowers that have a way of turning up in the hands of the incoming administration. “There’s a lot of this internal politicking that just wastes time, creates suspicion, and lowers morale,” says Vanderbilt University political scientist David E. Lewis, author of a recent book on how presidents politicize the executive branch.

But recent reports suggest that the Bush administration may be setting new records.  A few highlights from the mix:

  • ThinkProgress: As late as last year, ABC News noted that DHS was still “a political dumping ground,” with 350 White House-appointed staffers (compared to just 64 at the Department of Veteran Affairs).  For the past five years, the Bush administration has refused to fire these cronies. Yet last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that all of a sudden, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff had decided to replace many political appointees with career staffers.
  • According to an as-yet-unpublished paper by the University of Hawaii’s David Nixon, reports of burrowing increased during President Bush’s first four years compared to the Clinton administration, and “more than doubled” after January 2006. But the data was gathered prior to April 2008, Nixon points out. “The administration’s not even over yet, so there could be a huge uptick in burrowing.”
  • Republican administrations, explains Vanderbilt University political scientist David E. Lewis, “have been more aggressive at the top about encouraging or coordinating” burrowing. “The evidence that we have from the ’70s and ’80s was that the Reagan and Bush administrations were very successful in changing the ideology and composition of the federal civil service.” The current White House has even managed a variation on burrowing that bypasses the political appointment process—directly seeding the civil service with ideologues whose influence may be felt for decades to come.