Will Obama Burrow-in on the Trump Admin? Likely

A smooth and successful transfer of power on the surface perhaps…but beware of those in the shadows and lurking forever in dark hallways inside the beltway.

Primer: Obama tells anti-Trump protestors to march-on.

President Obama, speaking at a press conference in Germany, passed up the opportunity Thursday to tamp down the anti-Donald Trump protests back home — urging those taking part not to remain “silent.” 

The president fielded a question on the protests during a joint news conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

“I suspect that there’s not a president in our history that hasn’t been subject to these protests,” he answered. “So, I would not advise people who feel strongly or who are concerned about some of the issues that have been raised during the course of the campaign, I wouldn’t advise them to be silent.” 

He added: “Voting matters, organizing matters and being informed on the issues matter.” 

Have you heard of the Senior Executive Service?

The Senior Executive Service (SES) lead America’s workforce. As the keystone of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the SES was established to “…ensure that the executive management of the Government of the United States is responsive to the needs, policies, and goals of the Nation and otherwise is of the highest quality.” These leaders possess well-honed executive skills and share a broad perspective on government and a public service commitment that is grounded in the Constitution.

Members of the SES serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees. SES members are the major link between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce. They operate and oversee nearly every government activity in approximately 75 Federal agencies.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) manages the overall Federal executive personnel program, providing the day-to-day oversight and assistance to agencies as they develop, select, and manage their Federal executives.

Obama by using his mighty pen and phone can covert some of his most trusted operatives to be permanent government employees, undermining the missions of the next administration. Let that sink in a moment.


Personnel—Political-to-Career Conversions (“Burrowing In”)

Some individuals, who are serving in appointed (noncareer) positions in the executive branch, convert to career positions in the competitive service, the Senior Executive Service (SES), or the excepted service. This practice, commonly referred to as “burrowing in,” is permissible when laws and regulations governing career appointments are followed. While such conversions may occur at any time, frequently they do so during the transition period when one Administration is preparing to leave office and another Administration is preparing to assume office.

Generally, these appointees were selected noncompetitively and are serving in such positions as Schedule C,  noncareer SES, or limited tenure SES24 that involve policy determinations or require a close and confidential relationship with the department or agency head and other top officials. Many of the Schedule C appointees receive salaries at the GS-12 through GS-15 pay levels. The noncareer and limited tenure members of the SES receive salaries under the pay schedule for senior executives that also covers the career SES.  Career employees, on the other hand, are to be selected on the basis of merit and without political influence following a process that is to be fair and open in evaluating their knowledge, skills, and experience against that of other applicants. The tenure of noncareer and career employees also differs. The former are generally limited to the term of the Administration in which they are appointed or serve at the pleasure of the person who appointed them. The latter constitute a work force that continues the operations of government without regard to the change of Administrations. In 2007, Paul Light, a professor of government at New York University who studied appointees over several Administrations, indicated that the pay, benefits, and job security of career positions underlie the desire of individuals in noncareer positions to “burrow in.”

Beyond the fundamental concern that the conversion of an individual from an appointed (noncareer) position to a career position may not have followed applicable legal and regulatory requirements, “burrowing in” raises other concerns. When the practice occurs, the following perceptions (whether valid or not) may result: that an appointee converting to a career position may limit the opportunity for other employees (who were competitively selected for their career positions, following examination of their knowledge, skills, and experience) to be promoted into another career position with greater responsibility and pay; or that the individual who is converted to a career position may seek to undermine the work of the new Administration whose policies may be at odds with those that he or she espoused when serving in the appointed capacity. Both perceptions may increase the tension between noncareer and career staff, thereby hindering the effective operation of government at a time when the desirability of creating “common ground” between these staff to facilitate government performance continues to be emphasized.28

Appointments to Career Positions

Appointments to career positions in the executive branch are governed by laws and regulations that are codified in Title 5 of the United States Code and Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, respectively. For purposes of both, appointments to career positions are among those activities defined as “personnel actions,” a class of activities that can be undertaken only in accordance with strict procedures. In taking a personnel action, each department and agency head is responsible for preventing prohibited personnel practices; for complying with, and enforcing, applicable civil service laws, rules, and regulations and other aspects of personnel management; and for ensuring that agency employees are informed of the rights and remedies available to them. Such actions must adhere to the nine merit principles and thirteen prohibited personnel practices that are codified at 5 U.S.C. §2301(b) and §2302(b), respectively. These principles and practices are designed to ensure that the process for selecting career employees is fair and open (competitive), and free from political influence.

Department and agency heads also must follow regulations, codified at Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, that govern career appointments. These include Civil Service Rules 4.2, which prohibits racial, political, or religious discrimination, and 7.1, which addresses an appointing officer’s discretion in filling vacancies. Other regulations provide that Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approval is required before employees in Schedule C positions may be detailed to competitive service positions, public announcement is required for all SES vacancies that will be filled by initial career appointment, and details to SES positions that are reserved for career employees (known as Career-Reserved) may only be filled by career SES or career-type non-SES appointees.

During the period June 1, 2016, through January 20, 2017, which is defined as the Presidential Election Period, certain appointees are prohibited from receiving financial awards. These

appointees, referred to as senior politically appointed officers, are (1) individuals serving in noncareer SES positions; (2) individuals serving in confidential or policy determining positions as Schedule C employees; and (3) individuals serving in limited term and limited emergency positions.

When a department or agency, for example, converts an employee from an appointed (noncareer) position to a career position without any apparent change in duties and responsibilities, or the new position appears to have been tailored to the individual’s knowledge and experience, such actions may invite scrutiny. OPM, on an ongoing basis, and GAO, periodically, conduct oversight related to conversions of employees from noncareer to career positions to ensure that proper procedures have been followed. More here from FAS.


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