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.