The ‘Burrowing In’ of Political Appointees

With each presidential election and potential administration transition, concerns crop up about the doling out of permanent career positions to political appointees. But the White House’s obsessive focus on loyalty combined with the Trump administration’s politicization of multiple agencies has magnified the importance of investigating the potential “burrowing in” of political appointees.

In February 2018, the Office of Personnel Management updated its guidance regarding political appointees converting to civil service positions, requiring those employees to receive OPM permission before applying for a permanent position. Such conversions, often referred to as “burrowing in,” are a frequent concern during potential transitions between administrations, with the fear being that political appointees of one party who are installed into career positions could thwart future initiatives of a president of another party.

These fears have been amplified in the face of the Trump administration’s politicization of multiple federal agencies. At the same time, the White House’s post-impeachment purges of employees perceived as being insufficiently loyal to the president have also raised concerns about government positions being filled by people serving President Donald Trump’s political interests over the interests of the American public.

In July 2020, Trump named John Gibbs — a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development who had pushed a conspiracy theory about the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign — as the new head of OPM. That appointment came after the previous OPM chief, Dale Cabaniss, had abruptly resigned because of “poor treatment” by John McEntee, the director of the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office who had been spearheading the loyalty purges.

American Oversight is investigating the degree to which political appointees are currently being converted to career status — and whether OPM’s guidelines are being followed throughout the federal government.

Related Documents

August 20, 2020

No Records Response from Treasury Regarding Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Department of the Treasury
Agency Reply
August 20, 2020

No Records Response from USCIS Regarding Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Agency Reply
August 17, 2020

No Records Response from SBA Regarding Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Small Business Administration
Agency Reply
August 11, 2020

No Records Response from USTR Regarding Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Agency Reply
July 31, 2020

No Records Response from ED Regarding Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Department of Education
Agency Reply
July 23, 2020

Rejection from MCC Regarding Records of Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Millennium Challenge Corporation
Agency Reply
July 20, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Records Regarding Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS - U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Environmental Protection Agency, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administration, U.S. Agency for Global Media, U.S. Agency for International Development
FOIA Request
July 20, 2020

FOIA to OPM Seeking SF-50s of Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Office of Personnel Management
FOIA Request
July 20, 2020

FOIA to OPM Seeking Records Regarding Requests of Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Office of Personnel Management
FOIA Request
July 20, 2020

FOIA to OPM Seeking Communications Concerning Political Appointees Converting to Career Status

Office of Personnel Management
FOIA Request
July 20, 2020

FOIA to CFPB Seeking Records Regarding Deputy Director Tom Pahl

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
FOIA Request