Following Burrowers is a Big Project

February 11, 2009

A significant number of Bush administration political appointees have converted to career civil service jobs in recent months — raising the question of whether they can impact policy in the incoming Obama administration ... or even sabotage it.

"Burrowing," as the phenomenon is called, is nothing new; it has happened in other transitions. But a spate of recent news coverage suggests that an unusually large number of Bush's political operatives are not going away, quietly or otherwise.

A significant number of these "burrowers" work in areas covered by environment, energy, resource, science, and health journalists. The WatchDog offers some tips and tools for any reporters hunting "burrowers."

The "Plum Book," as it is informally known, is supposed to be a list of all the executive branch jobs subject to presidential appointment (only a subset of all the politically appointed jobs, but including most of the highest-ranking ones). It is published every four years, at the end of an outgoing administration; the latest one came out in December 2008. It is printed by the Government Printing Office and published for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The information comes from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. It is not currently available in database form.

Although numerous political appointees jumped ship before November, the Plum Book still offers a useful baseline to account for politicals at the end of the Bush administration. Most who moved to non-appointed or ongoing jobs in 2008 might be evaluated as possible "burrowers."