At the end of 2016, then-Office of Personnel Management principal deputy chief of staff Leandra English was converted from her politically appointed position to a career position at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an act which Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., now wants probed as he feels it could constitute improper “burrowing” into a position.
“Conversions — also known as ‘burrowing’ — is a practice in which a non-career, political appointee converts to a career position outside of competitive hiring processes. Burrowing threatens to undermine the merit-based principles that serve as the foundation of the civil service because it allows political staff to be favored over potentially more qualified candidates,” Johnson wrote in a letter to Special Council Henry Kerner.
“The Office of Special Counsel is charged with investigating hiring decisions based on political affiliation, which is a violation of civil service laws.”
English — who has recently been embroiled in a battle with White House budget director Mick Mulvaney for control of the CFPB after being named by departing CFPB Director Richard Cordray to be his successor — currently serves as the agency’s deputy director.
According to Johnson’s letter, OPM’s decision to confirm English’s conversion was based on information that “included errors, potential conflicts of interest, and insufficient independent verification.”
OPM acting Director Kathleen McGettigan reportedly responded to queries by Johnson with assurance that English’s conversion was “free from political influence.”
Prior to January 2017, English was a political appointee serving as principal deputy chief of staff at OPM. In September 2016, she had applied for a chief of staff career position at CFPB. CFPB then announced that she would be taking the position on Jan. 6, 2017.
Johnson took issue with the timeline of that career change in his letter. According to Johnson, the job announcement for the CFPB position was posted on Sept. 9, 2016, and closed on Sept. 20, 2016. CFPB had set the tentative date for selection as Dec. 7, 2016.
After the application period closed, 23 of the 72 applicants were deemed qualified, including English. English was not referred to OPM for conversion, however, until Dec. 13, 2016 — six days after the agency was supposed to have made a decision. English’s conversion was approved on Dec. 30, which Johnson deemed a “hasty” timeline. Her acceptance announcement on Jan. 6 was therefore nearly a month after the agency was supposed to have made a decision.
Johnson also noted that OPM originally misidentified the location and salary of the position English had recently filled to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in February 2017. OPM attributed this to a clerical error.
Johnson was also critical of the fact that English’s old and new positions performed “substantially similar duties,” that a former boss of hers was on the selection committee for the new position, and that OPM did not independently verify CFPB’s representations about English’s conversion.
“Based on the information that OPM provided to the Committee, it may be appropriate for the Office of Special Counsel to review whether the conversion of Ms. English from a political appointment at OPM to a career position within CFPB adhered to the merit system principles,” Johnson wrote.