House committee chairs sent a total of 61 letters to agency heads Nov. 25 calling for information on politically appointed employees that have burrowed into career positions.

“Burrowing in” refers to politically appointed employees converting over to positions in the career civil service, and — while allowed with careful consideration and approval from the Office of Personnel Management — is a process that comes under intense scrutiny during presidential transition years.

Burrowing employees can be seen as an attempt by outgoing administrations to install employees loyal to their policies permanently at the agency.

“Protecting the nonpartisan expertise of the career civil service is essential to the safety and security of the American people. Federal law requires that personnel actions are carried out in such a way that the ‘selection and advancement’ of employees in the civil service are ‘determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition,’ rather than on the basis of ‘partisan political purposes,’” the committee leaders wrote.

“We are seeking a full accounting of political appointees who have already been hired into career positions or are being considered for such conversions.”

The letter also calls for a full accounting of positions that have been or are under consideration to be converted out of the civil service and into a new Schedule F, created by a recent executive order.

The Schedule F conversions would take employees of a policy-centered nature and remove them from civil service hiring and firing protections, meaning that agency leaders could have more leeway to remove them from employment and fewer restrictions on the hiring practices used to fill that position.

“The creation of this schedule would be a dramatic change in the composition of the civil service and expose it to undue political influence and intimidation,” the committee leaders wrote, requiring agencies to supply the names and positions of any employees impacted by the Schedule F conversion.

Agencies have until Dec. 9 to provide the requested information, and must continue to provide updates to the Committee on Oversight and Reform biweekly until Inauguration Day.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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