TeepenCox News Service
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Bit by bit, as odd scraps of information surface, the hidden history of George W. Bush's presidency is emerging, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together.
With complaints becoming public, the Justice Department has announced it will remove political appointees as screeners for hiring interns and young attorneys. That's the sort of bureaucratic bric-a-brac shuffling that usually goes unremarked and, if reported at all, is sensibly ignored by anyone with something better to do, which would be just about anything.
But in a nifty piece of enterprise, a Washington Post report makes it clear why this little in-house dance shouldn't be sloughed off. The tale adds importantly to the disturbing story of the Bush administration's program to politicize every nook and cranny of the federal government.
The department's well-regarded Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program have been reduced under Bush and his go-fer attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, to partisan hiring halls. The Honors Program, a creation of the Eisenhower administration, had in the past been conducted by Justice's senior career attorneys.
With Bush political appointees in charge, applicants found themselves in interviews that suggested less a professional assessment than an ideological vetting. There has been a sudden influx from doctrinally conservative law schools and from the Federalist Society, created to nurture activist conservative lawyers. (The society is a major source, as well, of Bush judicial appointees.)
Ideological influence has left the Justice Department's civil rights division basically inert and has reached high into the department's top ranks. Monica Goodling, counselor to Gonzales, has threatened to take the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination if subpoenaed to testify to Congress about the political purge of U.S. attorneys. She came to Justice's leadership from Messiah College and Regent University Law School, a Pat Robertson spin-off.
The U. S. attorneys' removal for obviously ideological and partisan reasons and Justice's politicization of traditionally professional positions make a snug fit with other Bush practices.
From its first days, this White House has outfitted federal departments with political minders, usually installed in management and policy positions that are influential but typically below public radar.
Under Edwin Foulke, a Republican Party operative, OSHA, responsible for worker safety, has shifted from enforcement to taking industries' word that they will play nice. Perhaps not coincidentally, the three largest fields regulated by OSHA — agribusiness, construction and transportation — have off-loaded $630 million into GOP coffers during Bush's run so far.
The Bushified Environmental Protection Agency ignores science — or even brazenly rewrites it — to act out the right's conviction that environmental concerns rank somewhere between mistaken and nutty. Political appointees override the agency's professionals at will, the case repeatedly in this administration.
The White House sent a political operative to General Service Administration offices to brief the administration's political appointees on the Republican Party's 2008 priority congressional and Senate races. Why, if not to suggest that big-money GSA contracts to those districts and states could bolster Republican candidates? GSA is one of the government's largest contracting agencies.
No government is ever innocent of politics, but the relentlessness and reach of Bush's drive to turn the traditionally professional departments of the government into a chain of party proprietaries are unexampled in modern times, and it is unlikely we have heard the last of these tales.
Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Atlanta.