Friday, May 25, 2007

Cleaning Up George’s Mess—Part 3: Civil Service

The third part of the “Undoing Bush” article in Harper’s Magazine is on the damage the administration has done to the civil service. You don’t have to look any further back than the White House’s interference in the corps of U.S. attorneys and the firings of at least 8 in the middle of their terms for political reasons (all the while claiming that the dismissals were performance-related—a lie). But the problem is much bigger—Bush has planted a boat load of political hack’s without the requisite experience or skills throughout the civil service: Kyle Sampson at DOJ, Michael Brown at FEMA, Patrick Rhode at FEMA, Claire Buchan at Commerce. And on and on. All administrations make political appointments, of course, but the Bushies have gone further than their predecessors. Ken Silverstein, an editor of Harper’s, says,
“Where the Bush Administration has undeniably broken new ground is in its insistence that ideological purity and devotion to the president himself serve as a litmus test for appointees, and the rigor with which it has chosen and vetted candidates on only these grounds.”
It’s fair to expect a Republican to appoint Republicans, but they appointees need also to be minimally competent. The same has applied to government advisory panels, where loyalty hardly seems relevant and competence everything, and yet the Bush litmus test was applied there as well.

Furthermore, political pressure has affected research on controversial subjects and the editing of reports to alter conclusions to be more politically desirable. And of course we’re all familiar with the widely suspected interference with pre-war intelligence so that the Bush administration’s decision to invade would seem justified.

To solve these problems, Silverstein suggests having Congress reduce the number of presidential appointees; political interference should be avoided; decision making in general should be more transparent. Finally,
“Above all, we need laws that hinder future administrations from censoring the speech of experts and regulators within the federal government.”

1 comment:

Peter A. Stinson said...

Here's something to consider: The United States Coast Guard is the only federal agency (at least as far as I know) that has NO (get that, none, zippo, zilch) political appointees.