30 September 2005

Bush Cronyism Weakens Government Agencies

Bush Cronyism Weakens Government Agencies [Bloomberg]

The ranks of political appointees in the US government have surged under President George W. Bush after falling sharply during the Clinton administration, sparking concern - especially since Hurricane Katrina - that career professionals are being crowded out of key jobs.

Federal jobs available to political appointees rose 15 percent to 4,496 last year from 2000, according to the 2004 edition of the "Plum Book," which is published by Congress after each presidential election to list positions up for grabs. Those jobs declined 5 percent during President Bill Clinton's second term, a comparison of the 2000 and 1996 Plum Books shows.

As the Bush administration draws increased scrutiny over the credentials of top-level employees after the hurricane, a review of the record shows the issue goes far beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has borne the brunt of criticism for its fumbling response to the disaster.

"It is quite surprising that Bush turned out to be much more politicizing than Clinton," Sullivan said. "The Bush campaign was built around how they were the governors, not the politicians."

Under Bush, inexperienced political appointees have penetrated deeper into agencies, creating more levels of bureaucracy. The biggest growth has been in jobs that don't require Senate confirmation, which rose by almost one-quarter between 2000 and 2004.

The Bush administration increasingly tends to "drill down into government," making ever-lower-ranking officials political appointees, said Paul Light, a commission adviser and professor of organizational studies at New York University.

That layering "slows information coming up from the bottom, creates vacancies in the chain of command at key points in time and, contrary to their hopes, actually weakens the president's control of government," Light said.

The universe of federal political appointees goes beyond Cabinet secretaries and their deputies and principal assistants. Lower-level "Schedule C" and other appointed jobs pay at the civil service scale and don't need to be confirmed by the Senate. Their numbers grew 24 percent from 2000 to 2004 and are included in the Plum Book, which is formally known as "United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions."

"We could do twice as good a job with half as many appointees," Light said.

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