Change Federal Hiring Practices

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Political Criteria for Civil Service Positions

Today, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Karl Rove in contempt for refusing to testify about his role in the use of political criteria in vetting candidates for career positions at the Justice Department.  This action is part of continuing Congressional oversight proceedings aimed at finding out who ordered the politicization of hiring in many departments of the federal government.

Since the 19th Century, political hiring criteria for federal civil service positions have been forbidden by law.  The clear reason is that the government should be operated by career employees who carry their expertise and competence over from one administration to the next, regardless of which party has won the last election.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D, VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said at today’s hearing that Justice Department reports show “the problems of injecting politics” into decisions that are supposed to be nonpartisan “are rooted deeper than just the actions of a handful of individuals.” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/31/washington/31capital.html?pagewanted=1&hp

Testimony and subpoenaed documents have revealed that the Bush Administration went further than any previous administration in trying to ensure ideological conformity throughout the federal government.  Specifically, a memo from the White House political affairs office on May 19, 2005 sought federal positions for 108 Bush loyalists anywhere openings could be found, regardless of professional suitability of those people for the positions in which they were to be placed.  A follow-up email from the Justice Department urged “creativity” in placing those loyal Bush Republicans.  The lower level Bushies found a variety of jobs for their compatriots, including civil service prosecutors and immigration officials.

Lurita A. Doan, the epitome of Bushies in high government positions, was appointed head of the General Services Administration on April 6, 2006.  The GSA operates federal property and handles more than $50 billion in annual contracts.  Ms. Doan’s chief qualification for the position was $226,000 in campaign contributions she and her husband made to the Republican Party and its candidates over the previous six years.  Where did she get the money?  She became wealthy as a federal government contractor installing Unix on Navy ships and selling surveillance systems. As GSA head, Ms. Doan first got into trouble trying to give a $20,000 no-bid consulting contract to a friend. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lurita_Doan

Subsequently, the White House embarked on “education” programs to indoctrinate the politically placed government employees in how they could help the Republicans win the next election.  In January 2007, a deputy to Mr. Rove conducted such a briefing for top GSA managers.  At the end of the briefing, in violation of the Hatch Act, Ms. Doan encouraged agency officials to think about helping “our candidates” in the next election. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lurita_Doan

Some people ask what change Barack Obama is talking about when he says “Change We Can Believe In?”  Here is one change we really need:  We need honesty in government.  We need competent federal agency heads who are chosen based on merit.  We need a career civil service that is once again free from political litmus tests in its hiring and promotion practices. 

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