Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said in that all appointment actions involving a current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee or noncareer SES member must be approved by OPM. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry is warning agencies to watch out for political appointees “burrowing in” to career civil service jobs this election year.
Berry issued a June 8 memo to agency heads reminding them that personnel actions must “remain free of political influence or other improprieties and meet all relevant civil service laws, rules and regulations.”
Political appointees sometimes move into career jobs — a process known as burrowing in — to hold onto their positions after the administration that installed them ends. Critics such as federal labor unions and management associations say that the practice corrupts the federal government’s merit system.
The Bush administration allowed 20 appointees to burrow in throughout 2008, and 45 of President Clinton’s appointees likewise converted to career jobs during his last year in office.
But appointees also burrow in during nonelection years. The Government Accountability Office in 2006 reported that between 2001 and 2005, 144 noncareer appointees at 23 agencies switched to career positions.
Berry said in his memo that all appointment actions involving a current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee or noncareer Senior Executive Service member must be approved by OPM. The agency also reviews the merits of people seeking a conversion before they are presented to an SES qualifications review board.
Berry said OPM will suspend the processing of qualifications review board cases at an agency when the agency is transitioning to a new secretary, director or other top leader.
OPM used to insist on approving conversions of political candidates to career jobs only during election years — and then, only for competitive service appointments. But in 2010, it began insisting that it approve all conversions at all times.