Senate and House Requestors Issue Statement on GAO Political “Burrowing” Review Findings

Published: Oct 3, 2016

GAO found one quarter of political appointee conversions by the Obama administration did not follow proper procedures.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, today issued the following statements a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) that approximately one quarter of Obama administration political appointee conversions to career federal civil service positions reviewed by GAO did not follow proper procedures intended to prevent improper political favoritism.

“One of the reasons the federal government has laws on merit-based hiring is to prevent cronyism and political favoritism,” said Thune. “GAO’s finding that the Obama administration hasn’t consistently followed these rules is troubling.”

“The practice of burrowing in threatens the integrity of the federal workforce, where employees need to be hired based on merit and not on partisan political beliefs,” said Johnson. “I was particularly disappointed to see the Department of Homeland Security reporting the highest number of appointee-to-career employee conversions. It is critical that the administration take steps to ensure fairness and competition in federal service.”

“Rules exist for a reason. The nonpartisan watchdog’s findings that one out of every four political appointees who burrowed into the executive branch during this administration did not follow the rules is deeply troubling,” said Upton. “GAO’s guidance should help ensure proper procedures are followed so favoritism and bias are free from the inner workings of our government.”

“Hiring decisions must be free from political interference, legitimate, and justified,” said Chaffetz. “OPM should fully embrace GAO’s recommendation for a more stringent process to verify all conversions are appropriate. Fair and open competition is central to the integrity of a merit-based federal workforce.”

GAO reviewed data on 69 political conversions that took place between January 1, 2010, and October 1, 2015, for 30 agencies. The possibility of “burrowing in,” especially at the end of a presidential administration, may affect the integrity of the federal workforce by allowing political appointees to assume career positions through favoritism as opposed to a merit-based selection process. In past administrations, GAO has identified examples where administration officials failed to follow laws and regulations intended to ensure that political appointees seeking career positions do not receive unfair advantages. GAO released a previous  report on conversions in June 2010 covering the last transition of presidential administrations from May 2005 to May 2009.

Click here to read the full report, “Actions Are Needed to Help Ensure the Completeness of Political Conversion Data and Adherence to Policy,” from GAO that the four members requested in November 2015.