The few fellow conservatives I found in the career ranks of the Justice Department were usually people who would only secretly admit their views.
At work, they maintain the fiction that they are liberals or apolitical in order to avoid retribution. Those who are openly conservative usually have given up on ever getting promoted or are in dead-end career slots.
Once a conservative is embedded into the civil service, he becomes beholden to careerist middle managers for salary increases, vacation approval, stimulating assignments, and even office location. Conservatives worried about kids, mortgages, good benefits, and glowing performance reviews can be quick to abandon pesky principles when faced with ideologically hostile middle mangers.
The absolute fury and unrelenting hostility that I encountered as an openly conservative career lawyer at the Justice Department was something that had to be seen to be believed.
I was shunned from almost my first day on the job. My fellow career employees made it very clear that they would do everything they could to destroy me personally and professionally and drive me out of government. The only way a conservative career employee can survive isolation and pariah status is if Republican political appointees make a point of ensuring that liberal career managers do not bar conservatives from being hired or promoted, something that rarely happens.
This situation is tough to remedy, paradoxically because so few conservatives are interested in applying for government jobs. The point of this is not to hire individuals based on their political party status, but to hire qualified professionals with a conservative view of government (and the limits on its power) who will carry out the policies of conservative political appointees, instead of ignoring or fighting those policies because they disagree with them.
This critical mass of liberal career employees makes it very difficult for political appointees to implement conservative policies. The career employees do everything they can to directly and indirectly thwart those policies. I saw career employees misrepresent the law and conceal critical facts in order to oppose and stop the implementation of policies with which they disagreed.
Another tactic is to simply ignore policy directives or orders to make changes. This was aptly described by Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard when he related how career employees at the CIA managed to push Porter Goss out, and stop all of the changes he was trying to make, by simply slowing down or ignoring all of his directives.
Any conservative political appointee who relies on memoranda, information, or advice developed by career employees without double-checking the facts and scrutinizing the analysis is making a serious mistake. Career employees cannot be relied on to give nonpartisan, objective analysis on almost any issue. In fact, it was common to hear career employees talk about how much they hated Republicans and hated President Bush.
Many of them acted as if they worked for one of the many liberal advocacy organizations that infest Washington. This was aptly described with respect to the Department of Justice in a redistricting case arising out of Georgia in the 1990s, where a federal district court criticized the Department’s lawyers for behaving like the in-house counsel of the ACLU (and then having very convenient memory lapses about their interactions with the ACLU when questioned about it). It has only gotten worse since that decision.
One of my friends was a career staffer in the Department of Education, where most of the staff acted as if they were the NEA’s personal representatives in the Department. Another friend is a career lawyer who works on environmental issues at the Justice Department. Most of his fellow career employees think they are working for the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, rather than the American people.
One of the lawyers in the Civil Rights Division has a wife who works for the very liberal Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Whenever the resumes of new prospective employees were sent to the staff when I was there, he would get on the speaker phone in his office and describe the applicant’s background to his wife. He did not care that everyone in the surrounding offices could hear exactly what he was doing and that he was disclosing confidential personal information; his fellow liberal employees all thought it entirely appropriate to get her approval.