Since its establishment in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been plagued by incompetent political appointees. As late as last year, ABC News noted that DHS was still “a political dumping ground,” with 350 White House-appointed staffers (compared to just 64 at the Department of Veteran Affairs).
For the past five years, the Bush administration has refused to fire these cronies. Yet last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that all of a sudden, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff had decided to replace many political appointees with career staffers. The reason for the White House’s sudden turnaround? According to Chertoff, they want to create a smooth transition for the next administration:
“We should not let ourselves drop the ball on the handoff,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a recent interview, adding that his department has assembled “something unusual from a historical standpoint” in its plans to hand over a fully-functioning homeland-security operation to the next administration.
Based on the administration’s track record, however, its real intentions may be less than magnanimous. The Wall Street Journal notes that the “transition planning may be perceived by the next administration as an effort by Homeland Security Chief Chertoff to overextend his influence.”
Instead of being able to appoint new, competent officials, the next administration will be stuck with Chertoff’s last-minute choices. Government-bureacracy specialist Paul Light at New York University notes:
The incoming administration may well ask whether or not the career person was appointed on the basis of merit or on the basis of political connections. That creates quite a bit of tension.
Additionally, ThinkProgress spoke with a former Pentagon official who noted that at the end of many administrations, political appointees often choose to become career officials and continue their government work. By doing this, Chertoff’s cronies may be further entrenching themselves at DHS.
Will Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigate this issue? (Given his track record, probably not.)