The number of President Donald Trump’s political appointees who are attempting to become civil servants in federal agencies continues to grow, documents obtained by the News4 I-Team show.
The latest round of approved conversions include a White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who once served on Trump's inaugural committee, a Department of Interior official and political appointees from the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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The documents also reveal two appointees in the Office of the White House Counsel seeking approval for civil servant positions. The Office of Personnel Management, which must approve such changes, has returned one request. The other is listed as pending.
The Trump appointees are using a longtime, controversial practice called “burrowing” in which political appointees — whose jobs could easily be nixed by an incoming president — transition to more secure civil service positions, many times within the agencies they once helped lead.
The process of “burrowing” is nothing new and has been used for decades by administrations in both political parties. Under current law, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) must examine and sign off on the conversions and is required to report those cases to Congress. If approved, the newly minted civil servants will enjoy stronger job protections than political appointees.
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In a 2010 report, the Government Accountability Office indicated there was some benefit to the process of burrowing, writing: “Political appointees can bring valuable skills and experience to the federal workforce.” But the growing number of Trump appointees attempting to obtain career government jobs is raising increasing concern among some Democratic leaders as Trump has signaled a potential run for re-election in 2024. Critics such as Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly have previously suggested Trump appointees could undermine President-elect Joe Biden’s administration from within.
And some government watchdogs have slammed the process as wrong regardless of who is in power.
“You want the best and brightest in government, not the best politically connected,” said David Williams, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
The latest list, obtained by the News-4 I-Team, does not name the two White House Counsel employees who have sought to become civil servants, but specifies one is seeking an attorney position in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That request is pending.
The other is seeking to obtain an attorney’s position in the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery within the Department of Treasury, but records indicate that person’s request has been returned. It’s unclear from the documents whether the request will move forward.
The White House declined to comment on the employees.
A White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has secured a career position at his agency. Michael Holley, who was appointed to his previous position in the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security in 2019, will now work as a career employee in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security. The job change, which was approved in September, will provide a pay raise of approximately $5,000.
Holley's Linkedin profile indicates he previously worked on the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee and with the Florida Republican Party during Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The DHS did not respond to requests for comment from Holley or agency spokespeople.
Records show that OPM has returned or denied multiple requests to transition political appointees to civil servant positions, including an August 2020 request to transfer a DHS appointee working in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to DHS's Office of Policy.
The list does not name the appointee, but said the transfer was declined because OPM "could not conclude (the) appointment was free of political influence and complied with merit system principles and applicable civil service laws and regulations."
The News4 I-Team has previously reported other approved transfers within the Trump administration, including that of Larry Connell, who served as one of Trump’s first transition appointees at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and head of the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center. In May, he was approved for a career position as the head of the VA medical center in Providence.
In a statement last month, a VA spokeswoman said Connell was only approved “after going through competitive hiring procedures” and that the VA “coordinates all conversions of current and recent political appointees with the Office of Personnel Management.”
A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman previously told the I-Team that at least seven political appointees at the Justice Department have secured new career positions. The spokeswoman said each employee completed a competitive process to obtain the jobs and was approved by OPM.
The Office of Personnel Management has not responded to News4's requests for comment.