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.
Not only do career employees throughout the executive branch actively work to stop conservative policies, but even when political appointees successfully implement their programs, liberal career employees have no hesitation about leaking to the press or calling their favorite staffers on the Hill to divulge the confidential details of any program or policy with which they disagree. From the NSA leaks about eavesdropping on overseas telephone calls to terrorists, to the CIA disclosures about secret prisons in Europe, to the wholesale copying for the Washington Post of internal legal memoranda from the Department of Justice, liberal career employees routinely violated national security and confidentiality requirements during the Bush administration. If the Bush administration had ever tried to actually trace the identity of the leakers, they would have found that they were all liberal hacks masquerading as non-partisan career civil servants. The lack of ethics of many of these employees, particularly the career leakers in the Justice Department, was appalling.
The Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department had career employees with spouses on the staffs of certain Democratic senators and liberal advocacy groups. Whenever there were internal policy decisions with which the career employees disagreed, the Democratic senators and the advocacy groups usually knew about it before the White House did. At one particular oversight hearing, Senator Durbin asked a question that demonstrated intimate inside knowledge of a matter before the Civil Rights Division — the question was handed to the senator by his counsel, whose wife was a career employee within the agency. She was one of the “loyal” lawyers hired by the Clinton administration just before Bush came into office and is also one of the lawyers who was involved in the Division’s review of Georgia’s voter ID law. She loudly and vociferously complained about the Civil Rights Division’s approval of the law, after which a confidential internal legal memorandum on the case was “mysteriously” leaked to the Washington Post.
And why should the career staff not act that way? With the exception of national security investigations (and usually not even then), to cite just one federal agency, the Department of Justice did not investigate internal leaks of its confidential legal opinions, despite the fact that this violates the professional code of conduct for lawyers. One would think that the federal agency charged with responsibility for enforcing our laws would investigate leakers, but the inspector general (a liberal, of course) had no interest in doing so.
Career employees also leaked information that they thought would hurt the reelection efforts of Republicans. The National Intelligence Estimate that was leaked in September 2006 was actually prepared in April. I have no doubt it was leaked by a career employee to damage Republicans in the congressional elections, which is why it did not come out until shortly before the election. The FBI closed several investigations of leaks of classified information because of the non-cooperation by agencies such as the CIA and the State Department. There is simply no way that career employees at these agencies will cooperate with such investigations — they want to preserve their ability to leak information about policies and programs they do not like and disagree with. Not a single federal employee involved in any of these leaks was fired.
Most Republican administrations are also too scared of the media to aggressively investigate leaks, no matter how much damage they cause to national security. The only effective way of investigating leaks, like the New York Times story on financial tracking of terrorist funding, is to haul the reporters writing the stories before grand juries to reveal their sources within the government. This is almost never done because administrations are too worried about antagonizing reporters if they do so.
The only exception to this during the Bush administration, despite all of the leaks that damaged our ability to track and capture terrorists, was the investigation into the Valerie Plame affair. Patrick Fitzgerald did call reporters before a grand jury — but he did not fear the repercussions because he knew that the liberal media wanted this story investigated due to their desire to get members of the Bush administration, like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, indicted. Fitzgerald was painted as a hero by the press, which would otherwise have been condemning him for requiring reporters to reveal their sources.
Conservative policies that Republican presidents try to implement in the executive branch are thwarted even by career employees who are not active liberal partisans. Working for the federal government seems to instill an utter disdain for limits on governmental power. The idea that a regulation might unconstitutionally infringe individual rights or preempt an area that is traditionally the responsibility and authority of a sovereign state simply never occurred to most of the career employees I encountered. Years of working for a very large federal bureaucracy instills the ultimate regulatory mindset in career civil servants — when there is doubt about whether the federal government has the authority to do something, they never err on the side of not regulating. The rule is: when in doubt, regulate.
Of course, Democratic administrations have none of these problems, because the vast majority of the career employees agree with the liberal policies they want to implement. Career staff throughout the executive branch will do everything they can to help Barack Obama’s administration. They will give “lizard lists” to Obama’s appointees of the few quisling career employees who made the terrible mistake of actually cooperating with the Bush administration, so those employees can be demoted, fired, transferred, or otherwise punished for their unacceptable behavior. That is what happened when the Clinton administration took over, and it will happen again — a lesson not unnoticed by the few conservative career employees in the government. And no one in the media will care that career employees are being mistreated for political reasons.
After all, they should be punished for helping a Republican administration, and any conservative employees who were hired obviously need to be cleaned out of the career ranks.