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From Justice to Agriculture Department | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

From Justice to Agriculture Department

Did you see the letter in the New York Times on Monday by a man who suggests that this White House's politicization crept down to the state level of the Agriculture Department? It should lead all enterprising journalists to investigate how this Administration not only hyper-politicized the Justice Department, the Coalition Provisional Authority (see Rajiv Chandrasekaran's revealing "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," the Interior Department and the FDA but also state level positions in various federal departments.

As Michael Scherger recounts, after "reading Thomas Friedman's column "Failing by Example" (May 16), I was reminded of a job interview I had in the late summer of 2002. I had applied for a position with the Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, the state administrative officer position in Indiana, and had a phone interview scheduled. As the interview was winding up, I was feeling very good about it, when the question came up: "How do you feel about the Bush tax cuts and the rebates."

Scherger says that he "was floored." He'd been working "in the human resources field for years. and recognized right away that this question bordered on inappropriate." He "mustered the best response he could think of and the interview concluded." Like so many of us today, a man applying to be a state administrative officer in Indiana learned of the unprecedented attempt by the Bush Administration to exert direct political control deep into areas throughout the executive bureaucracy. As Dan Zegart reported in his prescient article for The Nation last year, "the executive branch is undergoing a brain transplant. An entire culture of civil service professionals loyal to their agency's mission is being systematically replaced with a conservative cadre accountable to the White House." And, yes, this isn't entirely a novel precept. Every President appoints his own "politicals" to run departments. But, as Zegart's reporting--based on more than fifty current and former government officials interviewed during an 8-month long investigation--revealed: "...the scale and coordination with which it is being done under this Administration seem unprecedented."

Partisan Loyalty has trumped judgment, competence, common good/common sense--and, above all, it has defined a relentless GOP attack on the very idea of professional government.

It turns out that the sickbed showdown between John Ashcroft and upstanding Department bureaucrat James Comey and the politicos Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card--which throws into dark and stark relief the corrupt politicizing of the Justice Department--is just one piece of a wider story. I'm going to try to reach Michael Scherger, who applied for that Farm Service Agency position, to try and find out more about this metastasizing politicization.

 

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