Some political appointees from the Trump administration hope to stick around and take on career roles in the federal government. Jeff Neal, former Chief Human Capital Officer at the Department of Homeland Security, joined “Government Matters” to discuss the trend of “burrowing in.”
Neal said the trend of burrowing in (when a former political appointee takes a job in the career civil service) isn’t new, and that it happens at every agency.
“We don’t know how much worse it might be right now than it has been in previous administrations,” Neal said. “Anecdotally we’re hearing of Trump appointees who burrowed into various types of jobs, anything from boards and commissions to GS-12s and -13s in agencies.”
While some people might choose to burrow into agencies in order to undermine the new administration, Neal said that more often than not the people who burrow in just want to work in government after their appointment has ended.
“When I started at DHS as Chief Human Capital Officer, we had 17 or 18 Bush administration folks who had burrowed in and I got a letter from the Chair of one of the House committees saying ‘please take a look at this,’ and so I personally took a look at it, and what I found was that, for the most part, there was nothing wrong with any of these appointments. They followed the rules, the people were qualified… and then after that they really didn’t do anything to try to undermine the Obama administration’s policies at DHS,” Neal said.
He said an appointment could be invalid if an individual cooks the process and caters the qualification requirements to an applicant’s resume. Neal said that when this happens, people often tailor the requirements too close and are easy to catch.
“Normally when you see something where someone has been playing around with the process, and committing a prohibitive personnel practice when they do that, you’ll find that it is often very obvious, and it seems that when people are trying to be crooked, they often turn off the part of their brain that helps them be smart,” he said.
Neal listed some red flags for potential abuses in his blog post and said Biden administration officials should be wary of hires whose appointments are not complete, hires who have been appointed for the first time to career positions and hires whose previous service allows them to not serve a probationary period. Of these, Neal said the latter are the hardest to address because they need to be treated like any other federal employee and have a chance to perform.