Political Pink Slips

Friday, July 1, 2005

IN MARYLAND, more than 7,000 state workers serve at the will of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Since he took office Jan. 15, 2003, he has fired only 284 of them, according to the governor's advisers. That's hardly a purge, especially given the years of Democratic control in Annapolis that preceded Mr. Ehrlich's election.

Still, Democratic legislators have some legitimate questions. The list of firings doesn't include everyone who was pushed out, because some workers resigned after being pushed to do so. As The Post's Lena H. Sun and Matthew Mosk reported recently, some of the shifts and dismissals have not been pretty, and some have affected workers well below the policymaking levels -- career employees with outstanding performance reviews in traditionally nonpartisan civil service positions. The list includes budget analysts, workers who investigated employee discrimination, benefits managers and computer specialists. It is difficult to determine how many people have been pushed out, because the reasons for the departures are kept confidential. One 25-year Department of Human Resources employee, who worked at automating welfare payments, said she was given 20 minutes to clean out her desk. Still others were given a few minutes' notice and the bum's rush by armed guards.

Certainly Mr. Ehrlich is entitled to bring in his own team, and there has been no evidence that laws were broken. Says Communications Director Paul E. Schurick, "The governor has said he wants people on the same page." In response to a decision by Democratic lawmakers to investigate administration personnel practices, Mr. Schurick counters that any such inquiry could bring out dirt on past Democratic abuses. So be it, but the investigation should not degenerate into a partisan rumble. The focus ought to be on whether the integrity of the state workforce has been compromised, and whether the number of "at will" jobs should be curtailed to protect against wholesale losses of valuable bureaucratic talent.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company