Employees trying to bend rules in effort to stay on federal payroll


January 09, 1993|By Frank Greve | Frank Greve,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- A purge is under way in federal agencies, and it's getting nasty.

Hundreds of desperate Bush appointees, facing unemployment in less than two weeks, are trying to bend civil service rules -- and change their political stripes -- to stay on the federal payroll.

But career bureaucrats are exposing their former Republican supervisors with the kind of angry glee that the liberated French showed when turning in Nazi sympathizers.

At the Department of Education, for example, a so-called "Lizard List" was slipped to President-elect Bill Clinton's transition team. It not only targets political appointees, but also 60 or so career bureaucrats whom a civil service union official considers Republican collaborators.

"They lived by the sword, and now they don't want to die by the sword," complained Robert L. Morgan, compiler of the list.

Since Election Day, tipsters have fingered 155 Bush appointees for trying to burrow into protected career civil service jobs, according to General Accounting Office investigator Bernard Ungar.

"Some are substantial allegations, but there are a lot of grudge and vengeance cases," Mr. Ungar said.

A housecleaning occurs every time a party loses the White House and the 3,000 patronage jobs that go with it. When Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter, political appointees were given an hour to clean out their desks.

But after 12 years of Republican rule, the house is being swept with a vengeance.

"It's like I'm a pariah," said Chris Cimco, a Bush appointee in the Defense Department's public affairs office. "People ask me, 'Do you want to take another Saturday duty before you leave?' 'Do you want us to pro-rate the coffee fund?' I feel like a terminal case who just hasn't died yet."

At the National Endowment for the Arts, lapel buttons have sprouted among career bureaucrats that read "Arrivederci Radice" and "Bobbi is Done," referring to lame-duck NEA acting Chairman Anne-Imelda Radice and General Counsel Bobbi Dunn.

Attempting to survive the hostile climate, some appointees have camouflaged their Republican colors.

Stephen Diaz, a Transportation Department lawyer, removed the prized photo of President Bush from his office wall. These days, he drops the name of another former employer -- Democrat Dianne Feinstein, then mayor of San Francisco and now an incoming senator.

Down the hall, Inspector General Mary Schiavo's collection of Bush photos has been trimmed back, too. She's joined other top government watchdogs -- all Bush appointees -- who say they should not be fired because their jobs are apolitical.

Arkansas Sen. David Pryor, chairman of the Senate Federal Services subcommittee that oversees the civil service, sparked the hunt for Republicans with a well-publicized Nov. 5 letter urging federal personnel to report appointees trying to dig into the bureaucracy.

Mr. Pryor charges Mr. Bush's appointees with manipulating or evading the civil service regulations to create cozy lifetime jobs for their political cronies.

"That is not fair, it is not good government, and it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the law," Mr. Pryor said. "It also presents the very real opportunity for people who oppose the incoming president to use their positions to sabotage his administration."

Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said Mr. Pryor has it backward. Bush appointees are "being denied opportunity in the competitive civil service because of their political affiliation," he said.

A reporter's quick probe of Senator Pryor's hit list found many groundless or overstated allegations. The inquiry also turned up unreported cases at several agencies.

The Agriculture Department, for example, is reorganizing itself, creating new career jobs for political appointees who would otherwise be unemployed. Other agencies are converting existing political jobs into career civil service jobs to keep people in place.

Also popular is a practice called "ramspecking." Named for the late Rep. Robert Ramspeck, a Georgia Democrat, the 1940 law gives civil service preference to congressional aides who have lost their jobs due to "reasons beyond their control . . . such as the death, defeat or resignation" of their bosses.

Interior Department appointee Timothy Glidden, for example, quit his $112,000-a-year post in late November and joined the staff of defeated Rep. John Rhodes III, an Arizona Republican, for three days.

Because Mr. Rhodes had been defeated, Mr. Glidden was able to use the Ramspeck law to grab a $83,500-a-year career job back at Interior.

Mr. Glidden, whose case is under review by the Office of Personnel Management, is not talking to reporters. At least 17 other Bush appointees at Interior are trying to find permanent places in the department, the most of any agency, Mr. Pryor's aides say.

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