Conservatives Don't Rock the Boat In the Executive Branch

Among the serious problems with Republican administrations is that many of their political appointees in middle management are often put in charge of areas they know nothing about.

This makes them dependent on career staff, with all of the bad consequences I have previously described. I know a conservative career lawyer who works at the Justice Department. Unfortunately, the chief of staff for the Bush political appointee who ran his division knew next to nothing about the work done by this division. The chief of staff did not want to make any mistakes that would garner the attention of higher-ups within the department or at the White House. Thus, this staffer relied on the advice of long-time senior career employees, advice based on liberal, left-wing policies unchanged from the Clinton administration.

My friend obviously could not complain about this to his career managers, but he tried to bring this to the attention of the political appointee and his chief of staff. He was disciplined for going outside the chain of command -- the chief of staff was not interested in rocking the boat in any way that would call attention to his ignorance, or upset liberal advocacy groups or the media and potentially screw up his chances for future advancement.

As Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity described in the Wall Street Journal, many Republican political appointees are intimidated by career employees. Clegg was initially disinvited from testifying about pervasive reverse discrimination by companies on the basis of “diversity” and the EEOC’s refusal to do anything about it. The head of the commission was afraid it would “lead to a ‘mutiny’ among the career people at the commission.” I saw this kind of political cowardice on many occasions, particularly as Clegg has said, because political appointees want to go on to their next job without having to deal with controversy generated by criticism from career employees.

While a president’s top appointees -- like attorney general or secretary of state -- get lots of attention, we never hear much about the hundreds of other appointees who inhabit the middle levels of management. Many are early in their careers, and although they may have been appointed to middle level posts in the Bush administration, all of them hope that they will advance to higher posts in the next Republican administration. Some of these appointees looked at the past nominees who had been filibustered, such as Miguel Estrada (or me), and realized that pursuing policies that upset liberals could result in their nominations getting torpedoed if they were selected for a higher post. They changed their behavior and avoided implementing conservative principles on important public policy issues out of fear that this would upset the Left.

This was not noticed because those decisions were often made at a level low enough that we would never hear about it. But it impaired implementation of conservative policies in many different areas, and it frustrated other political appointees who wanted to forcefully push conservative principles.

This brings up another area in which conservatives are very deficient in comparison with their liberal counterparts. Liberal advocacy organizations in Washington vastly outnumber the Right in terms of the number of organizations, funding, and an ability and willingness to make sustained and noisy demands on government agencies. They closely monitor the policies and regulations being formulated by federal agencies and howl in protest when they see things with which they disagree.