Appointments Raise Suspicion

amaxwell@govexec.com

The circumstances surrounding the career appointments of six political appointees gave the appearance that those appointees received favoritism or preferences that enhanced the prospects of appointment, the General Accounting Office has reported.

Of the 36 career appointments made by 18 agencies between January 1996 and March 1997, the remaining 30 appointments did not raise comparable questions of the appearance of preferential treatment, the report states. And after reviewing the other six questionable appointments, GAO concluded that agencies had followed proper procedures in those cases, too.

Typically, career civil servants are hired through a competitive process, using merit systems principles. The system is designed to select employees on the basis of relative knowledge, skills and ability, after fair and open competition. In two questionable cases, the knowledge, skills and required duties listed in the vacancy announcement appeared to have been tailored to the work experiences of the political appointees who applied for and were appointed to the respective positions.

In another two cases, political appointees obtained career appointments to positions from which they were reassigned shortly after receiving their appointments. This raised the question of whether there was an actual need to fill the positions.

In the fifth case, a political appointee who worked directly for the head of the agency helped create a new executive position that was to be filled through a career appointment.

The final case involved a political appointee who was selected for an executive position after the position was announced a third time. The political appointee was a member of the panel that screened applicants from the first two announcements.

Former Office of Personnel Management Director James B. King expressed concern about the report's findings in a letter dated July 29, 1997. He said that since GAO "was unable to discern the intent of the agency officials" involved in the six questionable appointments, it would be inappropriate to conclude that any prohibited activities occurred.

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