The chairs of 23 House committees and subcommittees sent a letter to Federal agency heads on Nov. 25 inquiring about the extent to which Trump administration political appointees may have “burrowed” into more permanent employment with the government through conversion of their jobs into civil service positions.

“We are seeking a full accounting of political appointees who have already been hired into career positions or are being considered for such conversions,” the House Democrats said. “The merit system principles of the Federal workforce put in place guardrails to ensure that competitive service requirements are not bypassed to inappropriately place political appointees in permanent career service positions,” they said.

The letter does not identify any specific instances of “burrowing” that may have taken place. It asks Federal agency heads for their initial responses by Dec. 9, with biweekly updates after that until Jan. 20, 2021, when the new administration takes over.

“Protecting the nonpartisan expertise of the career civil service is essential to the safety and security of the American people,” the members of Congress said. “Federal law requires that personnel actions are carried out in such a way that the ‘selection and advancement’ of employees in the civil service are ‘determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition,’ rather than on the basis of ‘partisan political purpose,’” they said.

The House Democrats also asked for a “full accounting of any positions converted, or being considered for conversion” through the creation of a new “Schedule F” for Federal employees under an executive order released by President Trump last month. Through that order, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has asked agencies to reclassify into Schedule F any Federal agency career professions that hold policy-making positions. The order has drawn strong opposition – and legislation to invalidate the measure – from Democrats in the House and Senate.

Creation of Schedule F, the House Democratic committee chairs said, “would be a dramatic change in the composition of the civil service and expose it to undue political influence and intimidation.”

Signing the letter, among others, were Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.