Bush’s Agencies Of Mass Politicization

This week’s report that officials in the Office of National Drug Control Policy made politically motivated appearances in the months leading up to the 2006 elections are only the latest example of the Bush administration’s misuse of federal employees.

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2003 that Karl Rove or his top aide, Ken Mehlman, “visited nearly every agency to outline White House campaign priorities, review polling data and, on occasion, call attention to tight House, Senate and gubernatorial races that could be affected by regulatory action.”

Partisan campaign or electoral activities on federal government property are illegal. This prohibition, however, has not stopped the Bush administration from politicizing virtually every agency under its control. Below is a quick review of the extent of the White House’s efforts to politicize the federal agencies:

Office of Faith Based Initiatives: The office was “used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities. The office’s primary mission, providing financial support to charities that serve the poor, never got the presidential support it needed to succeed.” [MSNBC, 10/13/06]


General Services Administration: After a GSA meeting during which White House deputy director of political affairs Scott Jennings gave a PowerPoint presentation that included slides listing Democratic and Republican seats the White House viewed as vulnerable in 2008, a map of contested Senate seats and other information on 2008 election strategy, GSA Administrator Lurita Doan asked how GSA could help “our candidates.” Special Counsel Scott Bloch has since advised the President that Doan should “be disciplined to the fullest extent for her serious violation of the Hatch Act.” [Congress Daily, 6/12/07]

Department of Justice:

“Unlike federal judges, immigration judges are civil service employees, to be appointed by the attorney general based on professional qualifications, not their politics. [During Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s aide Monica Goodling’s] tenure, vacancies were apparently not always posted and she selected lawyers to be considered for interviews based in part on their loyalty to the Republican Party and the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 5/25/07]

Department of Justice: “After the 2004 election, administration officials quietly began drawing up a list of US attorneys to replace. Considerations included their perceived loyalty to Bush and a desire by White House political adviser Karl Rove to increase voter fraud prosecutions, documents and testimony have shown. Most of the proposed firings were for US attorneys in states with closely divided elections. Among those later fired was David Iglesias, from the battleground state of New Mexico, where many of his fellow Republicans had demanded more aggressive voter fraud probes.” [Boston Globe, 5/6/07]

Interior Department: “A midlevel Interior Department official” received a “phone call from [Vice President Dick] Cheney in 2001, setting in motion a secret move to undermine the science of federal biologists who had said diverting water from the Klamath would violate the Endangered Species Act and devastate two imperiled species of fish.” [The Oregonian, 6/30/07]

Interior Department: Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald has consistently “rejected staff scientists’ recommendations to protect imperiled animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act.” A civil engineer with no training in biology, she has “overruled and disparaged” the findings of her staff, instead relying on the recommendations of political and industry groups. [Washington Post, 10/30/06]

Defense Department: “[T]he Pentagon’s public affairs division has become a dumping ground for administration cronies…seek[ing] to bypass the traditional media and work directly with talk radio and bloggers, mostly those with a heavily conservative tilt.” [Harper’s Magazine, 7/16/07]

Defense Department: “The Defense Department…has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.” [MSNBC, 9/14/05]

NASA: “The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming…officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard [Institute for Space Studies] Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.” [New York Times, 1/29/06]

Food and Drug Administration: “The top Food and Drug Administration official in charge of women’s health issues…resigned in protest against the agency’s decision to further delay a final ruling on whether the ‘morning-after pill’ should be made more easily accessible. ‘I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled,’ she wrote in an e-mail to her staff and FDA colleagues.” [Washington Post, 9/1/05]

Health and Human Services: “An internal investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the top Medicare official threatened to fire the program’s chief actuary if he told Congress that drug benefits would probably cost much more than the White House acknowledged.” [New York Times, 7/7/04]

Health and Human Services: “The Department of Health and Human Services recently revised its website,, and replaced factual data designed to help parents talk about preventing teen pregnancy with biased and misleading claims” reflecting administration policy. [NARAL, 7/10/07]

Office of the Surgeon General: “The first U.S. surgeon general appointed by President George W. Bush accused the administration on Tuesday of political interference and muzzling him on key issues like embryonic stem cell research.” [Reuters, 7/10/07]

Environmental Protection Agency: In a government report on the state of the environment, strong language that “climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment” was stricken by the White House, as was government research that suggests recent climate change is “likely mostly due to human activities.” The changes were protested by EPA staffers, who wrote in a confidential memo that the report “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.” [CBS, 6/19/03]

Office of National Drug Control Policy: “At the request of Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, John Walters, the nation’s drug czar, and his deputies traveled to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The trips were paid for by federal taxpayers and several were combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members.” [House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, 6/17/07]

Corporation for Public Broadcasting: During his tenure, former CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson “moved to address what he contend[ed was] the left-leaning lineup of news programs at PBS by advocating the addition of new shows with a conservative outlook.” He “failed to strike a proper balance by infusing politics into so many decisions at CPB” and by “in essence, allowing the White House to help direct plans of the CPB.” According to Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, this extreme politicization was “unprecedented.” [National Public Radio, 6/20/05]

— Ona Keller and Jordan Grossman