Seventeen political Obama appointments across eight different agencies converted to career positions without receiving the required Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approval.
After President Obama leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2017, over 4,000 of his political appointees also vacate their government offices as well. Federal employees prepare for new administrations by converting some of the outgoing White House’s political appointees to permanent career civil servants.
According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the most unapproved political to career conversions with six, followed by Health and Human Services (HHS) with three, and the Department of Energy (DOE) with two.
All of these agencies made seven of these conversions in 2010, when OPM’s previous approval policy was first established, and made two conversions in 2015 (through October 1).
Agency officials to told GAO they did not ask for approval from OPM before converting the political appointee statuses to careers, because personnel had trouble understanding OPM’s policy for the approval process.
Officials from four agencies claimed that the department’s human resource’s staff did not comprehend OPM’s conversion review policy, like the kinds of “political appointments whose conversions mandate OPM’s pre-appointment review or the inclusion of applicants who held former political appointments up to five years prior to the career appointment,” the GAO report noted.
As a result of agencies skipping OPM’s pre-approval process, OPM conducted 13 of the 17 post-appointment reviews and approved 9 and denied 4 conversions. The remaining four conversion cases that OPM did not do a post review of are no longer employed with the federal government.
Of the four conversions that OPM denied in a post review, one was a Department of Education political appointee who the agency gave “an unfair advantage in the hiring process by manipulating the requirements of the career position to align with the appointee’s background rather than with the position’s classified duties,” GAO reported that OPM said.
OPM also found that the Education Department used an “inappropriate selective factor for its selection of the political appointee, even though the appointee lacked minimum qualifications for the position.”
The case was referred to Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and following an investigation and it was determined Education officials committed prohibited personnel practices. OSC recommended that Education consider taking disciplinary action against the two personnel management employees involved in the process.
“According to OSC officials, Education informed OSC that one employee involved with the conversion retired after Education began its disciplinary process and that a second employee retired before Education could start the disciplinary process. OSC determined Education’s efforts to be satisfactory,” GAO wrote.