White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer added a new word the press corps’ vocabulary today.
What the heck is ramspecking? At first glance it looks like it could be a vulgarity you might see on Scottish Twitter, but it’s a legitimate term for a real Washington phenomenon—political people burrowing in to civil service agencies like blood sucking ticks.
"There are people who burrow into the government.. they used to call it 'ramspecking'" – Spicer
"What is ramspecking?"
"Google it!" – Spicer pic.twitter.com/qMLnbIxaou
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 21, 2017
Spicer says, “Google it!” so I did. “Ramspecking” is a word I had not heard before even though I’m aware of the activity it denotes. I found a good summary of it in an old issue of The New Yorker.
Burrowing in is what happens when a political appointee is quietly moved into a job that is normally a civil-service slot and is thereby protected from the purge that accompanies a transfer of power. It’s an excellent way for a party that has just lost control of the White House to populate the bureaucracy with potential walking time bombs. On Capitol Hill, the analogous process has been known as “ramspecking,” in honor of the Ramspeck Act of 1940, a just-expired law that allowed Presidents to put lame-duck congressional staffers in agency jobs. Once a person has burrowed in or has been ramspecked, he or she becomes a “headless nail.” Try prying one of those out with the claw end of a hammer.
It sounds basically like legalized cronyism. If a congressman lost his seat, his staffers could be hired as civil servants who are nearly impossible to dislodge from their positions. The impact of losing an election was blunted by empowering the bureaucracy with political activists. I can only assume that Congressman Ramspeck was an archetypical Washington crap weasel to have caused such legislation to exist.