Political Burrowing Prevention Bill Passes House

Legislation designed to end political burrowing has passed the House.

Even though it’s been over a year since it was introduced, The Political Appointee Burrowing Prevention Act (H.R. 1132) has taken another step forward in the legislative process. The bill passed the House unanimously on Tuesday and will now go to the Senate.

The purpose of the bill is to prevent temporary political appointees from converting into permanent civil service positions when their appointing president leaves office. It was introduced by Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO).

“If we really want to drain the swamp in Washington, then we must end this practice of political burrowing,” Congressman Buck stated. “Political appointees have the privilege of advancing their appointing president’s agenda for a period of time, but when that president leaves, they have a duty to Americans to step aside as well.”

Buck said that burrowing “undermines merit-based hiring for the civil service” and that by burrowing into permanent positions, it allows political appointees to continue advancing the agenda of the previous administration long after that president has left office.

The legislation would prevent political appointees from being hired into the civil service for two years following their departure from a political position. Thereafter, the head of an agency seeking to hire a former political appointee must submit a written request to the Office of Personnel Management to explain why the hiring of the former political appointee is necessary to achieve the agency’s mission.

Burrowing in is not an uncommon practice, particularly when there is a change in administrations. After the Obama administration left office, the Government Accountability Office found 76 instances of burrowing by political appointees, and in a 2006 report, GAO found 144 conversions to career positions from 2001 to 2005.

So is this legislation a good idea? FedSmith.com author and federal HR expert Jeff Neal weighed in on that question recently.

Neal felt that the legislation as written is too complex. He offered a different solution: ban burrowing for the duration of an administration and require OPM approval for anyone who served in a political position in a previous administration in the preceding five years.

“With these two provisions, the bill would be much less complicated, virtually impossible to game, and it should end the issue of burrowing for good,” wrote Neal. See The Political Appointee Burrowing Prevention Act – Good Idea or Not? for his full analysis.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.