Cleaning Out the Stables

The DOJ IG’s report demonstrating the politicization of the Department implies the not-unreasonable suspicion that the Administration has done this throughout the government. They have had eight years to overlook the most qualified applicants, and put unqualified hacks from the “right” backgrounds into the civil service.

Remember how Regent University Law School boasted that more than 150 of its graduates were in the federal government? That’s not just at DOJ–they have been seeded in general counsel offices throughout the federal bureaucracy. We might even call them Conservative Movement Sleeper Cells.

This obviously confronts an Obama Administration with the formidable management task of separating the wheat from the chaff. (Not a problem if McCain wins because it would simply want to continue the Bush policy.). It seems to me that an obvious step would be to send IGs into all relevant agencies and arrive at reports detailing whether similar abuses occurred. Interior Department and EPA–I’m looking at you. Former Republican Congressmember Sherwood Boehlert would be an obvious choice to head such an investigation on appointees in scientific agencies. The point is hardly to find conservatives, or Republicans, or evangelicals: they can and should be serving at levels of the federal civil service. The problem is finding the incompetents.

What is less clear is the remedy: proceedings to strip unqualified appointees of civil service protection would be difficult enough, but it’s quite possible that the Bush civil service isn’t blatantly unqualified–it’s just mediocre.

I suppose that the best remedy would be shame: publicize the effort well, make sure that IGs of very strong integrity are appointed, and make the reports public and very clear. The principle is not to hide anything. I’m pretty sure Henry Waxman would cooperate with well-publicized hearings.

Putting together an action plan now would be a useful role for think tank geeks, because this effort will take a while. One might even say that it will be a long, hard slog.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.