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Monday, March 14, 2005

Hiring Data Shows Bush Political Appointees Scarce, So How Can They Crush Citizen Access With FOIA Controls?

It's Sunshine Week and journalists and others interested in Freedom of Information Act issues, are celebrating the landmark 1966 law that guarantees all citizens the right to access government documents and information, subject only to reasonable exemptions for things like national security, law enforcement and proprietary commercial information.

The FOIA is a good thing, as is Sunshine Week, but one of the most frequent assertions you are likely to hear from folks on the Left is something along this line: "Bush and his political appointees like former Attorney General John Ashcroft have severely restricted the right of citizens to use the FOIA."

There is some truth to the accusation, but focusing exclusively on the actions of Bush political appointees conveniently obscures a far more fundamental cause of problems with the way the FOIA has been administered in recent years, going back several administrations. That is the fact career federal employees are responsible for virtually all FOIA administration, not political appointees of any presidential administration.

So, in preparation for my testimony tomorrow morning before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the propsed Cornyn-Leahy Open Government Act of 2005 (the hearing is timed to coincide with Sunshine Week), I checked with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's public affairs office on the total number of political appointees now and during the Clinton administration. As I suspected, political appointees in the executive branch of government are rarer than politicians who always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As of Sept. 2004, the latest available data from OPM shows Bush has appointed:
  • 669 Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (includes U.S. Marshalls and Attorneys)
  • 13 Political Appointees not requiring confirmation
  • 669 Non-career Senior Executive Service members
  • 1,452 Schedule Cs
  • 27 Limited time Senior Executive Service members
  • 2,830 total

Since there are approximately 2.4 million career federal employees in the executive branch, that means the political appointees make up .00119 percent of total federal executive branch employment.

By contrast, near the end of the Clinton administration in Sept. 2000, the numbers looked like this:

  • 473 Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (not counting U.S. Marshalls, U.S. Attorneys)
  • 13 Political Appointees not requiring confirmation
  • 605 Non-career Senior Executive Service members
  • 1,278 Schedule Cs
  • 48 Limited Time Senior Executive Service members
  • 2,417 total
Near the end of Clinton's first term, the numbers looked like this:

  • 500 Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (not counting U.S. Marshalls, U.S. Attorneys)
  • 9 Political Appointees not requring confirmation
  • 660 Non-career Senior Executive Service members
  • 1,444 Schedule Cs
  • 1 Limited Time Senior Executive Service member
  • 2,614 total
These numbers are significant because a constant refrain from the Left has Bush political appointees crushing Freedom of Information Act access in the government when the truth is that most career federal employees handle 99.9999 percent of all FOIA requests and almost never see a living, breathing Bush political appointee. And it was the same way in the Clinton administration and indeed every administration before that because the numbers of political appointees available to any president are virtually the same from one term to the next.

Remember these numbers the next time you hear somebody on the Left complaining about how Bush has excessively increased secrecy in the government by cracking down on FOIA requests.
Oh, one more figure - there were more than 2.7 million such requests to the federal government in 2004, the most ever.