2,500 Bush appointees suddenly must find another job

November 10, 1992|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In the spring of 1990 Barbara Gleason snapped up the offer of a $67,000 deputy directorship -- a political appointment -- in the Department of Education's public affairs division.

"I thought it was a very good career move," she says now. It gave her a hefty raise in salary and status over her old job as a liaison for a Washington-based trade association.

What's more, President Bush was coasting comfortably in the popularity polls, seemingly headed for a second term, with no whiff yet of a broken tax pledge or of a prolonged recession.

But with the election last week of Democrat Bill Clinton, nearly 2,500 federal political appointees must resign soon or be fired -- among them Ms. Gleason, whose hopes of keeping her job collapsed, threatening the fragile comforts she and her husband had nestled around their two elementary school-aged children and a mortgaged home in Alexandria, Va.

"This is a double whammy for us," Ms. Gleason says with a bleak smile. Her husband, Robert, also is certain to lose his job as a speech writer for outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Louis W. Sullivan.

The Gleasons and the other mostly Republican Party faithful -- many of whom have been in government employ since the first Reagan presidency in 1981 -- will be required to hand in their resignations during the holiday season, as the new Democratic administration eases into control.

Some, no more than a few hundred, may be retained, but the overwhelming majority will have to go, yielding to a new wave of patronage in a quadrennial Washingtonian ritual that has fused politics and public paychecks for as long as anyone can remember.

"You don't come here looking for long-term security," said Henrietta Fielek, press secretary for outgoing Education Secretary Lamar Alexander. "We have no delusions; we all know the rules from Day 1."

Political appointments rose during the Bush administration to the highest level -- 2,435 -- since the White House began keeping records in 1979, according to a report by the General Accounting Office in June.

During previous administrations, fear of losing secure government employment has prompted some political appointees to use their influence or connections to convert their status to permanent, career positions -- an illegal process known to personnel officers as "burrowing in".

There have been reports of small-scale burrowing over the last 12 months, which government administrators deny.

"To my knowledge there have been no cases [of burrowing] during this administration. None whatsoever," says Dick McGowen, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, who is himself a political appointee.

Democratic Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas warned against burrowing last week in a letter to all federal agencies.

"Some people think they have become indispensable and that )) they can't, or won't, be fired -- that the new administration will recognize their good work and let them stay on. It's sad," says Environmental Protection Agency Associate Director Carl Gagliardi, who helped the Bush-Quayle campaign in 1988 before landing his plum position, which pays nearly $7,000 a month.

Mr. Gagliardi says he doesn't worry about the impending change, which he had been expecting and planning for since the summer.

"I've got four or five solid [job] prospects and one solid offer," he says.

On top of that, his wife is a successful corporate executive. They have no children, they refinanced their house six months ago, paid off all other debts and are about to embark on a two week paid-up vacation in Hawaii.

"For me it's just a case of sliding back into the private sector," he says. "I'm about as prepared as you can get."

Despite his executive position in the EPA, heading the environmental education and communications section with nearly 100 staff and a budget of more than $12 million, Mr. Gagliardi says he has little interest going into the private sector as an environmental consultant.

"I'd be embarrassed to come back [as a consultant] and have to talk to my old buddies at EPA, almost like a supplicant -- I just wouldn't be comfortable doing it," he said.

Barbara Gleason says she and her husband also had discussed the prospect of a Bush defeat well in advance of the election. But for her it was a matter of loyalty.

"I half-heartedly sent my resume to some firms a couple of months ago but I haven't heard anything back, and I don't expect to; my heart just wasn't in it," she said.

Ms. Gleason and her husband have been in Republican administrations, or involved with the Republican National Committee since the early 1970s.

Now she asks: How long before they can get back on their feet? Will they have to release their housekeeper? Or the nanny? Who then will ferry the kids to and from their swimming classes, or the soccer and basketball practices? Must they refinance the house?

"You get into this Catch-22 situation: You've got to have a job to support your children, and then you wind up having to support your children because of your job," she observes.

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