Federal Eye Eye Opener: Making political ‘burrowing’ harder

Happy Monday! It may soon get much harder for political appointees to “burrow” into their agencies at any time — not just during presidential election years.

Currently agencies must only seek permission from the Office of Personnel Management to move a political appointee into a career job during a presidential election year. But starting Jan. 1, OPM will have to approve every transfer of a current or recent political appointee into a career position. The order came in a memo issued late last week by OPM Director John Berry.

By burrowing, political officials earn civil service job protections that make it difficult for managers to remove them. The practice may also deprive an incoming presidential administration of a chance to name its preferred candidates to top jobs.

But in his memo, Berry said “I believe we must hold ourselves and the government to a higher standard, one that honors and supports the president’s strong commitment to a government that is transparent and open. OPM’s responsibility to uphold the merit system is not limited to presidential election years nor to competitive service appointments.”

“While political appointees may not be excluded from consideration for federal jobs because of their political affiliation, they must not be given preference or special advantages,” Berry said. Agency requests will be reviewed by OPM’s career senior executives in order to avoid any suggestion of political influence by Berry or other appointees.

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