Civil Service Circumvention? Panel Chairman: Personnel Office Makes Mockery of Merit

Article excerpt

The merit process for getting career civil service jobs has been perverted by the very agency charged with ensuring its fairness, the chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on civil service charged yesterday.

Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, cited two recent cases, including one in which the former chief of staff of the Office of Personnel Management, a political appointee, "burrowed" into a career civil service job.

The number of "burrowing" incidents - conversions from political appointments to career civil service jobs - tends to increase significantly during the last year or two of an administration, according to the General Accounting Office. In egregious violations of the merit system, congressional investigations have resulted in reversals or firings.

The OPM traditionally issues a warning to all federal agencies in January, urging special caution during election years when political appointees try to convert to career jobs. Mr. Mica and his staff say they pleaded with OPM Director James King in January, February and March to issue such a warning.

In letters to Mr. King, Mr. Mica said the pending appointment of OPM Chief of Staff Michael Cushing to a career job smacked of "political cronyism" and put the agency's "credibility on the line."

The OPM warning was issued March 14, after Mr. Cushing - a friend of Mr. King's - gained appointment as director of a new unit called the Partnership Center.

Sources say it was common knowledge in the agency that the warning was sent back for review several times.

"There was clear intent to delay to get their guy through," said George Nesterczuk, staff director of the civil service panel. …