While “burrowing in”–the practice of political appointees converting to civilian positions–draws significant attention, especially around Presidential transition years, GAO once again has found that the practice is rare, adding that the conversions that did occur over January 2010-March 2016 “complied with merit system principles, applicable civil service law, and regulations.”
Such conversions “can raise questions of favoritism or unfair advantage” and thus are subject to OPM review for political influence in the hiring decision, GAO said. But it found only 69 conversions in that time–with the greatest numbers at DHS, nine; Justice, eight; DoD, six; Treasury, five; and no other agency more than four. During that period the government hired about 100,000 people into full-time, permanent non-seasonal positions every year.
OPM denied 21 requests over that time, and another nine that it approved ultimately weren’t carried out. In another seven cases, agencies carried out conversions without the needed OPM approval; OPM later reviewed and denied four of them, and the agencies “undertook various remedies, such as readvertising positions,” while in the other three cases the former appointees were no longer in the positions to which they were converted.
GAO added that “while agencies seem to have followed the laws for OPM-approved conversions, most of the case files we looked at didn’t have enough evidence. For example, if OPM reviewed evidence online, it wasn’t copied or saved.”
GAO conducted its review at the request of various members of Congress who expressed concerns about Obama administration appointees moving into career jobs. In a similar 2010 report, GAO found 117 conversions over May 2005-May 2009 and that agencies had used proper hiring procedures in almost all of those cases, as well.