Trashing Our Government On Their Way Out

Bill Scher

Yesterday, the Bush Justice Department announced there would be no prosecutions for the illegal political hiring that went on the Justice Department (link via Knitting Liberally). And, the Bush Interior Department announced new proposed rules that would eliminate independent scientific reviews of projects that could harm endangered species.

The two developments both speak to a disturbing but wholly predictable development. Conservatives want to finish the job of crippling the civil service and trashing our government on their way out the door.

The Bushies were busted in their politicization of the Justice Department, but Attorney General Michael Mukasey has now made it clear that accountability will be quite limited. Further, as noted here before, the politicization of the civil service is far from limited to the Justice Department.

The conservative project to cripple the entire civil service — taking away the linchpin of fact-based law-abiding democratic governance in favor ideological hackery, blind partisan loyalty and contempt for law — was laid out by the Heritage Foundation upon Bush’s entry into the Oval Office and has been executed widely ever since. The conservative approach to hack government is the underlying cause of nearly every Bush scandal — from manipulating Iraq intelligence to muzzling climate scientists to churning out anti-Social Security propaganda.

To ensure the civil service stays crippled, conservatives want to “burrow” into the civil service, to hobble future White House administrations that may want to restore good governance. Hence the desire to place conservatives into “career” civil service positions. As Dan Froomkin observed at the Nieman Watchdog:

…it’s traditional for presidents to work until the last minute to hire and promote amenable civil servants, establish rules, and issue orders intended to outlive them. There are some persuasive reasons to suspect Bush will set a new record.

Which brings us to the Endangered Species Act.

The Interior Department’s proposed rule sounds on the surface to be a simple procedural change. The Washington Post headline sounds downright innocuous: “Endangered Species Act Changes Give Agencies More Say.”

But The New York Times editorial board (making up for their disingenuous energy editorial earlier in the week) spots the insidious motivation:

Under current rules, federal agencies are required to submit their plans to either the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

This in effect gives scientists at those agencies the right to say no to any project or, as is most often the case, to require modifications if the project threatens an endangered species. [Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne would now effectively remove these agencies, whose job is to oversee the act, from the process.

The dangers of such “self-consultation” should be obvious.

The Bureau of Reclamation likes to build dams; the Department of Transportation likes to build highways. Protecting endangered species is not their priority. Other agencies, like the Office of Surface Mining or the Bureau of Land Management, have shown themselves far too vulnerable to pressure from the very industries, like mining, they are meant to regulate.

And those agencies will be even more vulnerable to corporate pressure if they are stocked up with conservative hacks who put the special interest ahead of the facts and the law. After the Justice Department hiring scandal, there should be no question that is the Bush administration’s intention.

Froomkin warns of “midnight rulemaking, last-minute hires and executive fiats” to “make it harder for [Bush administration] successors to change course.”

But it’s not really about Bush’s successors and their individual powers.

It’s about our government. It is ours, all of ours.

We cannot allow our precious democracy to be trashed to serve a conservative agenda that runs afoul of the law and was never embraced by the public.

It will require sharp eyes and maximum vigilance.

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