GAO finds limited burrowing during Bush years

Wednesday - 6/30/2010, 6:59am EDT

By Rachel Stevens
Federal News Radio

Most agencies follow proper procedures to move employees from political to career positions, government auditors found.

The Government Accountability Office recently released report showing that out of the 117 conversions at the General Schedule-12 level of higher, 92 were appropriate.

Of the remaining 25 conversions, GAO found that in 18 there was insufficient documentation to reach a conclusion, while auditors found seven conversions were improper.

The report tracked conversions between 2005 and 2009 during the Bush administration. The departments of the Air Force, Justice, Treasury and Veterans Affairs, the Office of Special Counsel, and the U.S. Marshals Service were all found to have made at least one improper conversion.

These incidents tended to include "pre-selecting particular individuals for career positions and selecting former political appointees who appeared to have limited qualifications and/or experience relevant to the career positions," the report states.

GAO recommended that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) review five of the seven inappropriate conversions. OPM has agreed to do so.

As for the two cases OPM is not reviewing, the agency's ethics officer is reviewing one, and one was considered irrelevant because both the hiring manager and the employee are no longer with the agency.

OPM has also recently begun requiring agencies to get approval before hiring a recent political appointee for a competitive or non-political excepted service position. GAO says this "should help better ensure that these conversions are meeting merit system principles and applicable civil service laws."

This topic warrants study, GAO says, to ensure adherence to the merit system. Appropriate conversions must involve a hiring process that is "fair, open, and based on skills, knowledge, and ability" and takes veteran's preference into account, according to the report.

The report states that by law, practices such as "granting any individual a preference or advantage in the application process, including defining the manner of competition or requirements for a position to improve the prospects of any particular applicant" also are prohibited.

Rachel Stevens is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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