Clearly, I owe my readers some true post-election analysis–something that has been slowed down by the insanely busy schedule I’ve been keeping in the lab and the totally overwhelming implications of the fantastic and historic recent election of Barack Obama. In the meantime, though, I’d like to point out a particularly insidious aspect of the Bush legacy that has so far gone underreported, although it has been publicized by AAAS president James McCarthy and was recently reported in The Washington Post:
The president of the nation’s largest general science organization yesterday sharply criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees gaining permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, saying the result would be “to leave wreckage behind.”
“It’s ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure,” said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “You’d just like to think people have more respect for the institution of government than to leave wreckage behind with these appointments.”
His comments came as several new examples surfaced of political appointees gaining coveted, high-level civil service positions as the administration winds down. The White House has said repeatedly that all gained their new posts in an open, competitive process, but congressional Democrats and others questioned why political appointees had won out over qualified federal career employees.
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.
Also this month, Erik Akers, the congressional relations chief for the Drug Enforcement Administration, gained a permanent post at the agency after being denied a lower-level career appointment late last year.
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.
Given some of the wholly unqualified (not to mention unscrupulous) people appointed to science-related positions in the Bush Administration, we should be skeptical of any of these people moving into career positions. At the very least, they certainly shouldn’t have preferential treatment, and given their lack of qualifications I doubt that many would make the cut in a truly objective process.
We’d better keep an eye on them.
Hat tip to Anna Oldmeadow.