No ‘burrowing in’ on your way out, Sen. Thom Tillis urges Obama

Republican Senate then-candidate Thom Tillis talks to a voter while making calls from his campaign office in Cornelius, N.C., Nov. 3, 2014.
Republican Senate then-candidate Thom Tillis talks to a voter while making calls from his campaign office in Cornelius, N.C., Nov. 3, 2014. AP

Sen. Thom Tillis on Friday urged President Barack Obama not to go on a federal government hiring spree or to shift political appointees to career civil servant jobs in the closing weeks of his administration.

Tillis, R-N.C., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent a letter to Obama asking him to implement a hiring freeze to avoid adding federal workers who may not share the same philosophy as the incoming Donald Trump administration.

The two senators also asked the president not to engage in “burrowing in,” a practice in which political appointees are kept on the federal payroll by moving them to career civil servant posts.

“There is no doubt that thousands of dedicated civil servants faithfully serve in positions across the federal government without regard to who occupies the White House,” the senators wrote. “However, it would be unfair to those employees, and to the American people, if they are joined by others who may not be willing to properly execute the policies of the new administration.”

Because we know that you are sincere in overseeing a smooth transition, we hope members of your administration will resist the urge to accelerate the hiring of career civil servants who may not share the priorities of the new administration.

Letter by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to President Barack Obama

Tillis and Johnson pointed out that Democratic and Republican administrations are guilty of the practice and noted that more than 300 political appointees have been burrowed into career jobs since early 2001.

A recent government review found that 69 people had shifted from political to career jobs from 2010 to 2015 at nearly two dozen federal agencies. About 17 of those changes occurred without the approval of the Office of Personnel Management, which wasn’t consulted, according to The Washington Post.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, 135 political appointees shifted to career jobs from January 2001 to June 2008, an Associated Press investigation found. Twenty-six of those conversions occurred during Bush’s last year in office.

“Not only is ‘burrowing in’ unfair to applicants without an inside connection, it further contributes to the possibility that federal workers may attempt to undermine the policies of the new president,” Tillis and Johnson wrote. “We respectfully encourage you to consider the aforementioned concerns and also consider the implementation of a hiring freeze on all career civil servant positions, except those that involve public health or safety, until the end of your term.”

Doing so “not only will be a gesture of bipartisanship and goodwill, we hope it also will set a precedent for future presidential transitions,” the two senators added.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas