Pharyngula

Enduring damage

The Bush administration will leave us with another legacy: unqualified Republican ideologues receiving appointments in various institutions, including scientific organizations, as their ship of state sinks. The rats are scuttling overboard, and are being rewarded with captaincies on any available vessel. An article in the Washington post discusses the trend. I thought these were striking examples.

In one recent example, Todd Harding — a 30-year-old political appointee at the Energy Department — applied for and won a post this month at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There, he told colleagues in a Nov. 12 e-mail, he will work on “space-based science using satellites for geostationary and meteorological data.” Harding earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Kentucky’s Centre College, where he also chaired the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans.

And in mid-July, Jeffrey T. Salmon, who has a doctorate in world politics and was a speechwriter for Vice President Cheney when he served as defense secretary, had been selected as deputy director for resource management in the Energy Department’s Office of Science. In that position, he oversees decisions on its grants and budget.

One of the best changes Obama could make in our government is to inspire a culture of competence. It looks like his ability to do that has just gotten much harder.

Comments

  1. #1 clinteas
    November 22, 2008

    I seem to have read somewhere that Obama can reverse any legislative decisions made after December 5 with the strike of a pen.
    I guess that doesnt apply to the widespread tactics of an outgoing government to give away posts for their spawn at the 11th hour.

  2. #2 'Tis Himself
    November 22, 2008

    The Bush administration always considered ideological purity to be the highest qualification for any job. Michael “You’re doing a great job Brownie” Brown of FEMA fame was only the most notorious.

  3. #3 Marc Abian
    November 22, 2008

    Abilty doesn’t get harder.

    [/pedant]

  4. #4 Clostridiophile
    November 22, 2008

    Holy shit….this is not good. I am not even 30, with a PhD in microbiology, and I would be very hard pressed to tackle such a position. A bachelor’s in government?? What are these people thinking?

  5. #5 spgreenlaw
    November 22, 2008

    The shit they are pulling, not just with appointments, but with the EPA and species protection is absolutely disgusting. They are ransacking the country and the planet. I’ve got no clue what to do about it.

  6. #6 SEF
    November 22, 2008

    Why aren’t there any regulations requiring people to be qualified for important posts? Why are evidently incompetent people (with completely the wrong qualifications, if any at all, quite apart from any conflicting ideology or previously corrupt behaviour on their part) even allowed to be appointed just like that? Why can’t they simply be unappointed and replaced by worthwhile people instead as soon as the new bunch are in power?

    I thought you anti-monarchists in the US should have had more sense than to institute the equivalent of peerages (unelected, unmerited jobs in power for life).

  7. #7 Josh
    November 22, 2008

    But you’re forgetting–those of us with PhDs aren’t competent or qualified. We’re not experts. We’re elitist.

  8. #8 woody
    November 22, 2008

    Nobody hiring these absurdities to staff militant cells of science-deniers to life-tenure jobs would catch the same kinds of shit for breaking the Civil Service laws that anyone would get by breaking the same laws to to FIRE these feculent assholes…

    Obama ought to demand the resignations of anyone and everyone who was hired by the Busheviks for any post whatsoever. If they won’t quit, they should be prosecuted for taking positions under false pretenses.

    Period.

  9. #9 raven
    November 22, 2008

    The corruption and incompetence of Bushco is blatant. They aren’t hiding anything and don’t care if anyone sees it. Outing CIA agents, made up WMD intelligence, assaults on the constitution and our civil rights, destroying the Justice department with wingnut lawyers only, etc.. Just biz as usual.

    Must be those “small town values” they babble on about so incessantly.

    They are also writing all sorts of regulations at the EPA, NIH, and other agencies that more or less bypass 50 years of legislation. Endangered species may now be served with either red or white wine, and on and on.

  10. #10 woody
    November 22, 2008

    I’ve got no clue what to do about it.

    As long as there’s a plasma screen i the living room, a new edition of survivor or American Idol to watch on it, a 30-pak of bud lite in the beer fridge, and the pizza-boy at the door, nothing will ever get done.

    Mission: Accomplished…

  11. #11 Mike O'Risal
    November 22, 2008

    If only it were just the ideologues in the federal government screwing things up. How about a little local censorship of the non-religious in California to brighten our day, too?

    ShrubCo is bad enough, but their long coattails will have left enough of their kind in power across this country to make life less free for years to come.

  12. #12 Crudely Wrott
    November 22, 2008

    It is sad to see the Republican faithful in such a sorry state. They are reduced to planting turd bombs to impede the efforts of those about to assume a great burden.

    The legacy they leave to their successors will only serve to make that burden even more onerous than it will surely be.

    I’m no great fan of either major party, but come January 20 I will raise my level of expectation and anticipation as we are again assured by a new administration that a bright new future is just around the corner. And I’ll keep asking, “Are these the leaders I’ve been waiting for? Those who I would actually follow?”

    Maybe this time . . .

    E Pluribus Unum

  13. #13 raven
    November 22, 2008

    The last step, looting the treasury and the government.

    Well, clearly the fundie cultists of Bushco are lunatic xians. As such they have proved to be amoral thieves and liars and many are as Paul Krugman (Nobel economist 2008) has stated, “Monsters”.

    Out with a penny, out with a pound. I would expect anything not nailed down with a junkyard dog guarding it to be stolen. Computers, furniture, wallpaper, information, etc..The portable stuff will be minor in comparison to looting the treasury.

    No one knows how much the various bailouts have cost or where the money went. When trillions of $$ are flying out the door with no oversight in a matter of weeks, you can be sure that much or most of this money is going into someone’s pockets. With a trillion here, a trillion there, Bushco has managed to indept an entire future generation. This isn’t free market capitalism, it is a kleptocracy.

  14. #14 FrodoSaves
    November 22, 2008

    Can you say ‘FEMA’?

  15. #15 tigerhawkvok
    November 22, 2008

    I agree that those people are NOT qualified for the positions they were given. Crony-ism is a big problem of the Bush administration. Its kind of absurd.

    However, I think that you’re over-focusing on the party label and not looking at any particular issues generally. I can’t really recall the last time I saw anything remotely favorable to Republicans on this blog. For example, nominally I’m Republican. You know, tax less, spend less, fiscal responsibility. My social policies tend toward moderate, but essentially I feel that on a given issue, the government often shouldn’t have a say at all. (Abortion: who cares what anyone thinks, the real point is that the government does not have the ability to legislate what a person can do to their own body). I’m also an atheist, a position that has recently made me re-register independent because too many — on both political parties — were using “faith” as a proxy for fact.

    Besides, the real republican mantra recently has been “tax less, spend more”. And certainly not small government when nationalizing banks is an issue. (Along similar lines, I am very skeptical of nationalizing healthcare).

    I also have a bachelors in astrophysics, and have a paleontological biomechanics paper undergoing peer review, and taught courses in paleontology and evolution. My research includes both sauropods and stellar modeling.

    I essentially vote on a per-case basis rather than along party lines (for example, for Obama — I really have high hopes); but I have a feeling that if I were up for office as a “republican”, I’d be scorned by you and commenters on this blog!

  16. #16 Zeno
    November 22, 2008

    My experience with public employment is in state government in California, not federal government, so I’m no expert on the federal system, but new civil service employees in both state and federal government begin their tenure on probation. I think for the feds it’s one year. The full protections of civil service don’t apply till after the probationer has successfully passed his or her performance review. If the probationer is found to be unqualified or incompetent, he or she is subject to dismissal — and probationers are not entitled to the multiple appeal and review processes that insulate full civil servants from political agendas or arbitrary discipline.

    I hope the Obama administration takes the probationary period very seriously and roots out the underqualified and unqualified Bush refugees during 2009. Otherwise they will burrow in and become a long-term source of toxins in the body politic.

  17. #17 Sven DiMilo
    November 22, 2008

    Great post from Chris Clarke on Obama and the Endangered Specis Act.

  18. #18 Sven DiMilo
    November 22, 2008

    Species, that is.

  19. #19 Strider
    November 22, 2008

    Don’t blame these guys for applying for the positions blame the morons who selected them. Someone please write a follow up or update on this situation wherein we learn who is responsible for their appointment.

  20. #20 Epistaxis
    November 22, 2008

    They don’t hate expertise. They simply have no idea what it is. They think anyone with half a brain can read up on a topic and talk to the right people the week before the debate.

  21. #21 Strider
    November 22, 2008

    Zeno@16
    In my experience as a federal employee the probationary period was three years. I assume those guys’ll try not to mess things up too much until after that period.

  22. #22 SEF
    November 22, 2008

    I hope the Obama administration takes the probationary period very seriously and roots out the underqualified and unqualified Bush refugees during 2009.

    Why just hope? Aren’t you in a position, as a US citizen, to write to, or otherwise petition in some manner, the people who are supposed to be representing you?

  23. #23 Molly, NYC
    November 22, 2008

    Appointing politically-connected incompetents isn’t exactly a new problem–it’s been going on for 8 years now. The difference seems to be that these new arrangements have less to do with a desire to continue to influence policy than with setting up sinecures for Bush Administration toadies–wingnut welfare on the public dime.

    It shouldn’t be that hard to avoid giving them any more work that lets them exercise any authority. (1) However, their appointments to science jobs shows (for the gazillionth time) the Bush Administration’s contempt for–in fact, utter inability to even comprehend–fact-based endeavors. (2) I’m not the first person to notice that, as these appointees probably have internalized those views, the problem isn’t that we have federal employees who are merely useless–it’s that we have employees who are actively hostile to the mission of their jobs.

    How do we get rid of these people–all 8 years’ worth?

    (1) My suggestion: take away their computers, throw them each a calculator and tell them to check the arithmetic in their agencies’ budgets–all fifty-three, single-spaced, 6-point-type, thousands-of-pages volumes. Yes, they have to show their work; sources for input numbers have to be physically checked–in the file room, in the basement of the next building. And no, you don’t need the corner office for this–the former broom closet will do for you; sorry, the budget doesn’t allow us to have it cleaned more often than every six months. Oh, you just bought a house in Alexandria? Sorry, your unit (made up entirely of Bush’s last-minute appointments) is moving to Fargo next month.

    A private nurse’s aide once told me that one of the annoyances of her job was people who felt they just weren’t getting their money’s worth unless they made her work hours as unpleasant as possible. To treat people like her like that is despicable. But for these people, it’s more than they deserve.

    (2) It’s probably that they’re doing the same thing to the intelligence services.

  24. #24 Denis Loubet
    November 22, 2008

    Tigerhawkok wrote:

    For example, nominally I’m Republican. You know, tax less, spend less, fiscal responsibility. My social policies tend toward moderate, but essentially I feel that on a given issue, the government often shouldn’t have a say at all. (Abortion: who cares what anyone thinks, the real point is that the government does not have the ability to legislate what a person can do to their own body).

    You know, if you agree that common usage determines the definition of words, then you’re not remotely a Republican anymore. You’re clearly something entirely different. You need to come up with a new name for what you are, or find an existing label to apply to yourself that conforms to your views. Paleorepublican might do, but it has the baggage of the word republican, which is now synonymous with monster.

    So what should old-school Republicans be called now that Republican and neocon are synonymous?

  25. #25 Neil Schipper
    November 22, 2008

    Would that there was more insight among secularists about how their own narcissistic tendencies were part of the story of the defeats in the culture wars over the last 20 years or so. The fact of the Bush presidency reflects a preference among secularists for career security, being entertained, for having the right opinions and for snark, instead of an activism that engages with like-minded people to achieve specific goals. If we are unable to talk honestly about how we were blown out of the water by the opposition, an opposition that got people out to meetings and opening their wallets, got like-minded folk on school boards, not to mention the building of megachurches, founding universities and getting their people in the White House, we risk being not much more than observers of a cyclical phenomenon.

  26. #26 Zeno
    November 22, 2008

    SEF @ 22: Why just hope? Aren’t you in a position, as a US citizen, to write to, or otherwise petition in some manner, the people who are supposed to be representing you?

    Fear not, SEF. I don’t just whinge about stuff. I contact my elected representatives, mail polemics to newspapers, post information on websites, and maintain my own superlative blog (whereby I seek to educate the masses while confessing my inability to budge my rock-ribbed parents).

  27. #27 gatoscuro
    November 22, 2008

    Ouch. I have a degree from Centre–and I was there when Harding was. Embarrassing. Very embarrassing.

  28. #28 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 22, 2008

    And I’ll keep asking, “Are these the leaders I’ve been waiting for? Those who I would actually follow?”

    No. These are the people you hired to finally get the job done after they successfully cheated to prevent you from firing them for incompetence 4 years ago.

    Democracy. Politicians are your employees, not your leaders.

  29. #29 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 22, 2008

    Oops! Empty link! This here ought to work.

    Besides, the real republican mantra recently has been “tax less, spend more”. And certainly not small government when nationalizing banks is an issue. (Along similar lines, I am very skeptical of nationalizing healthcare).

    I’d really like to read an explanation of why introducing national healthcare* is like nationalizing banks. Especially if it explains why the rest of the First World is better, not worse, off healthcare-wise than the USA.

    * Which does not automatically mean abolishing private healthcare corporations entirely. In Austria, the republic is indeed the only health insurer; but in Germany, it’s not — if you feel you’re rich enough to buy first-class patient status, you can.

  30. #30 'This Himself
    November 22, 2008

    Neil Schipper #25

    If we are unable to talk honestly about how we were blown out of the water by the opposition, an opposition that got people out to meetings and opening their wallets, got like-minded folk on school boards, not to mention the building of megachurches, founding universities and getting their people in the White House, we risk being not much more than observers of a cyclical phenomenon.

    I notice from the post you linked to that you’re a Canadian. Perhaps you failed to notice that the Bushite neocons failed to retain their hold on the White House and Congress. However, I can understand this, since you may still be recovering from Harper having increased the Conservative plurality to 143 MPs last October.

  31. #31 Arnosium Upinarum
    November 22, 2008

    They sure groom ‘em, don’t they?

    Armed with a bachelor’s in government and an email suggesting he will work on “space-based science using satellites for geostationary and meteorological data” is all that Toddy needed to apply for and win a position at NOAA. (Oh, alright, that and this: “At NOAA, spokesman Anson Franklin said Harding was selected in “a competitive process by career executives” and “the position did not require a scientific background [oops, nix his stated aim in his email], but a background in international relations.” ” – ah, we stand suitably corrected then…a background he either acquired at his former post over at the Energy Department, or when he chaired the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans mehbe? Inquiring minds want to know.)

    But hey, just because Toddy popped a pimple only last week doesn’t mean he doesn’t look great in that laquered haircut.

    Then the guy who has a “doctorate in world politics” who was hired to be a speechwriter (yup, gotta be properly qualified, doncha know) obtains a position that will oversee decisions on the grants and budget of Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    “In hiring our Nation’s Federal career workforce, the Administration adheres to a rigorous, transparent and competitive process in place at each agency that is managed by career officials and safeguarded by the merit system principles upheld by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), without White House involvement,” wrote Luis A. Reyes, deputy assistant to the president for presidential personnel, in a letter yesterday to Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.). [From the Washington Post article]

    Oh, well then, it must all be hunky-dory.

    If all this doesn’t demonstrate the most pernicious and obnoxious possible contempt for America, its institutions, its citizens, and their science, what does?

  32. #32 'This Himself
    November 22, 2008

    Tom Teepen had an editorial on this very subject published today.

    This process has been around long enough to earn its own nickname – burrowing. But in the past it has been used mainly as a patronage hustle, to reward loyalists, not to thwart an incoming administration by confronting it with in-house opponents to the very policies on which the new president campaigned.

    Patronage appears to have little to do with Bush burrowing. Its practice is mostly in offices where the Bush crew has focused its busiest damage to the public good, where it has played out its ideological wish list and where it has paid off its industrial constituency.

  33. #33 Longtime Lurker
    November 22, 2008

    The way to sweep the detritus out of these agencies is to institute a battery of public service examinations tailored to each agency. Anyone in NOAA, even if they’re a P.R. flack, should have a working knowledge of basic climatology and oceanography. Anyone in the Justice Department should have a basic grasp of constitutional law (say the equivalent of a high-level undergraduate course). Any schmo unable to pass such a test should get a ding letter. Anyone with a degree from Liberty University should get extra scrutiny.

  34. #34 Pierce R. Butler
    November 22, 2008

    tigerhawkvok @ # 15: … I have a feeling that if I were up for office as a “republican”, I’d be scorned by you and commenters on this blog!

    You’d hardly notice, compared to the white-hot rage radiating from your “fellow” Republicans…

  35. #35 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    November 22, 2008

    I have a feeling that if I were up for office as a “republican”, I’d be scorned by you and commenters on this blog!

    Nah. You’d most likely be crushed by the real Republicans before you even got onto our radar.

  36. #36 Anton Mates
    November 22, 2008

    So what should old-school Republicans be called now that Republican and neocon are synonymous?

    Democrats, probably.

  37. #37 Doug the Primate
    November 22, 2008

    @28 Posted by: David Marjanovi?, OM | November 22, 2008 3:55 PM

    And I’ll keep asking, “Are these the leaders I’ve been waiting for? Those who I would actually follow?”
    No. These are the people you hired to finally get the job done after they successfully cheated to prevent you from firing them for incompetence 4 years ago.

    Democracy. Politicians are your employees, not your leaders”

    Acrually David, I think this is wrong. Politicians are a special class of age earners, neither employers not employees, neither masters not servants.

    In Canadian municipal law for example (the area with which I am familiar), no politician has authority to hire, fire, promote, discipline, etc any municipal employee, as that is the purview of senior management. Even in the hiring of the most senior of management a team includes the most senior politician of Council, but the team’s recommendation is not in effect until ratified by Council, sitting as a corporate body on behalf of the body politic. No politician has authority to act on her own.

    The dismissal of politicians can occur only according to law, and not at the behest or action of one or even a large group of electors. The most common means of dismissal is under electoral law, of course, but other law also applies. For example, in Canada (generally) three periords of successive absence from a regularly scheduled meeting of Council not otherwise approved are grounds for Council, not citizens, to suspend the offending politician from effective office. As well, a Criminal Coe conviction that would otherwise disqualify a citizen from running for electoral office is grounds for dismissal, through the Court, perhaps by petition from citizens, or by Council.

    In short, under law, politicians are not like you and me. They have no collective agreement, they are not covered under employment standards law, and I don’t think they can get workers’ compensation benefits. They are, in effect, just what they are: the representatives of us, the people who put them there rather than volunteering to be there instead. For all their faults, for all their massive egos, they do volunteer to be grilled by the media, roasted for the slightest gaffe, to work horrendous hours, at tremendous cost to their home and private lives, because they believe they can contribute to the public good.

    Anyone want to volunteer?

    There is a spirit of unearned cynicism in the Western democracies about our politicians. Sure they can make daft decisions, and sure their short term goal is re-election. I think part of the problem is party politics, and the mutual mistrust of class antagonism. There is a lovely example of non-partisan politics in the territorial government of Nunnavut, roughly the eastern half of Artic Canada from latitude 60 degrees north to the northern tip of Ellesmere Island. Politically it is roughly the equivalent of a Canadian Province; by population that of a largish European town; by population density rather more than the Sahara Desert. Transportation is by plane, snow sled, dog sled, and watercraft in summer. Communication is by Internet, telephone, radio, and TV (Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network). Parliamentary sessions are conducted in Innuktitut, the language of the native Innuit with translation among Cree and English and otherwise as needed (I hope to be corrected on these details). All of their Parliamentary debates are collegial rather than partisan, and decisions are made by consensus rather than division of the House. The result is uncommon solidarity, although resentments remain, as is to be expected in a small community. I doubt it is a model of parliamentary democracy that can readily be exported elsewhere, but that just points up the fact that democracy itself is subject to sociological factors of which ideologues are ignorant.

    Cheers!

  38. #38 DaveG
    November 23, 2008

    Who will run the following Offices?

    Fruit Fly Research (we’ll always have Paris)

    Large Overhead Projector Maintenance

    Flag Defense and Jingoism

    Phobophilia

  39. #39 Radwaste
    November 23, 2008

    All of you upset about cronyism in the outgoing Administration should be delighted to know that Sen. Obama is vetting new-hires thoroughly… Oops!

    CNN thinks that’s a bad idea!

    And gee – I wonder if any Democrat can remember what happened when their guy left office…

    Let’s see how many felons Pres. Bush lets go free.

  40. #40 Polyester Mather D.D.
    November 23, 2008

    You know, if you agree that common usage determines the definition of words, then you’re not remotely a Republican anymore. You’re clearly something entirely different. You need to come up with a new name for what you are, or find an existing label to apply to yourself that conforms to your views. Paleorepublican might do, but it has the baggage of the word republican, which is now synonymous with monster.
    So what should old-school Republicans be called now that Republican and neocon are synonymous?

    Denis Loubert has evidently forgotten the the expression ” Semantic Agression”

    The Neoconservative’s attempt to graft their branch of the Democratic political tree on to the elephant’s trunk created a protruberent political monstrosity , but the fact that it is rapidly withering testifies to the strength of the pachyderm’s immune system.

    Palaeoconservatives of the Goldwater sort have been railing against the neocon’s ecumenical allance with the fundies since the Clinton years , and have faced the wrath of the Theocons for their pains.

  41. #41 Azkyroth
    November 24, 2008

    Abilty doesn’t get harder.

    Maybe it just isn’t attracted to you?

  42. #42 Azkyroth
    November 24, 2008

    For example, nominally I’m Republican. You know, tax less, spend less, fiscal responsibility

    Have you been living under a rock for the past 28 years? The Republican party hasn’t made even a half-hearted pretense of upholding more than the first of those three principles for significantly longer than I’ve been alive. The sooner you and others like you get over this absurd, zombie-like brand loyalty and move on, the better for all concerned.

  43. #43 Robert Byers
    November 24, 2008

    From Canada
    A CULTURE OF COMPETENCE? IS MYERS KIDDDDDING.
    The whole premise of the Democratic Obama win, the Democratic party, the liberal establishment, the republican party Establishment, the ethnic/se tribes, and some percentage, though a minority, of the public IS that IDENTITY results in prestige or fairly prestigous, positions anywhere in America is the GREAT agenda.
    The democratic party appeals to ethnic/sex identies with the promise to use power to interfere with who gets what in jobs/promotions and stop who otherwise without interference would get it on merits.
    Obama was to be President in the hearts of many because of Identity and not policy competence.
    Hilary is pushed up because of Identity. Palin was pushed up because of Identity. bush picked most people because of identity.

    COMPETENCE. Does myers know the the phrases famous in universities pf QUOTOS, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, LOOKING LIKE AMERICA. MINORITY REPRESENTATION.

    The election at this point of history is the reward of endless agitation at and in high circles by ethnic/sex identities and friends to bring the right results in which identity gets what they say each identity deserves.
    It is also suggesting the identities who have and have had are actively keeping out the others.

    COMPETENCE is not the priority. The Obama administration will not be more competent then the Bush one. A true mess will comtinue.
    By the way Powell and Rice and others were picked because of identity and they were incompetent. The others were incompetent because of the general neoconservative Jewish incompetence and secret motivations.

    Obama is not REagan and this will not be years of a light on a hill.
    It could be in the right hands the start of the end of the ethnic/sex agendas to interfere with the True American man and people in their rightful claims to the rewards of their country come what may of the identity scores.
    Until then the Obama administration will look not like America but like the Democratic senate and congress. Colour, sex, and very Jewish.
    In these circles the demise of a great people, nation, and principals.
    Thats how it looks from Canada

  44. #44 Falconer
    November 24, 2008

    gatoscuro said:

    “Ouch. I have a degree from Centre–and I was there when Harding was. Embarrassing. Very embarrassing.”

    I’m a Centre Alum, myself — class of 2001. I think I vaguely recall Todd Harding, myself. I didn’t have much interaction with him.

    Really, a Bachelor’s in Government? That’s all he has? I’ve got a BA in English and I feel barely competent as a lawyer’s gofer!

  45. #45 Natalie
    November 24, 2008

    Robert Byers:

    Thats how it looks from Canada my disturbed and barely coherent mind.

    Fixed that for you.

  46. #46 Mark
    November 26, 2008

    I’m as rabidly anti-Bush as anyone out there, but I think this one is an unfortunate misunderstanding. I actually know Harding, and my understanding is that he’s going to work on international negotiations on science projects, which is what he did at DOE.

    They actually note this later in the Post article–that the position requires international relations as opposed to science experience.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.