How Many More Mike Browns Are Out There?

A TIME inquiry finds that at top positions in some vital government agencies, the Bush Administration is putting connections before experience

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To critics, Myers' appointment is a symptom of deeper ills in the Homeland Security Department, a huge new bureaucracy that the Bush Administration resisted creating. Among those problems, they say, is a tendency on the part of the Administration's political appointees to discard in-house expertise, particularly when it could lead to additional government regulation of industry. For instance, when Congress passed the intelligence reform bill last year, it gave the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) a deadline of April 1, 2005, to come up with plans to assess the threat to various forms of shipping and transportation--including rail, mass transit, highways and pipelines--and make specific proposals for strengthening security. Two former high-ranking Homeland Security officials tell TIME that the plans were nearly complete and had been put into thick binders in early April for final review when Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson abruptly reassigned that responsibility to the agency's policy shop. Jackson was worried that presenting Congress with such detailed proposals would only invite it to return later and demand to know why Homeland Security had not carried them out. "If we put this out there, this is what we're going to be held to," says one of the two officials, characterizing Jackson's stance. Nearly six months after Congress's deadline, in the wake of the summer's subway bombings in London, TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter says the agency is in the process of declassifying the document and expects to post a short summary on its website soon.

In the meantime, Myers' nomination could be in trouble. Voinovich says his concerns were satisfied after a 35-minute call with Chertoff, in which the Homeland Security Secretary argued forcefully on Myers' behalf. But other senators are raising questions, and Democrats have seized on Myers' appointment as an example of the Bush Administration's preference for political allies over experience.

The Post-Watergate law creating the position of inspector general (IG) states that the federal watchdogs must be hired "without regard to political affiliation," on the basis of their ability in such disciplines as accounting, auditing and investigating. It may not sound like the most exciting job, but the 57 inspectors general in the Federal Government can be the last line of defense against fraud and abuse. Because their primary duty is to ask nosy questions, their independence is crucial.

But critics say some of the Bush IGs have been too cozy with the Administration. "The IGs have become more political over the years, and it seems to have accelerated," said A. Ernest Fitzgerald, who has been battling the Defense Department since his 1969 discovery of $2 billion in cost overruns on a cargo plane, and who, at 79, still works as a civilian Air Force manager. A study by Representative Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, found that more than 60% of the IGs nominated by the Bush Administration had political experience and less than 20% had auditing experience--almost the obverse of those measures during the Clinton Administration. About half the current IGs are holdovers from Clinton.

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