Protecting Civil Servants

Using career employees at the US Treasury to calculate the potential costs of John Kerry's tax plan was an unfair use of presidential power.

The Bush administration should not have allowed civil servants to be used for such a political purpose, even for simple number-crunching.

The request for the analysis actually came from House majority leader Tom Delay. Both Mr. Delay and the political appointees at Treasury should have known that the better and normal place to have such work done is the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. The two political parties regularly use staff experts on the committee to find holes in each other's proposals.

Previous presidents reportedly used Treasury tax estimators to pick apart their opponents' fiscal proposals. And it's also possible that civil servants in many federal departments have been asked by various presidents to provide information related to a presidential candidate's policy platform.

But it erodes the professionalism of federal workers if they're required to provide information that's solely destined to be used in political advertising and stump speeches.

Of course, President Bush is not the first president to blur the lines between duties and politics. Bill Clinton, like Mr. Bush, traveled often at taxpayer expense to give official speeches that sounded a lot like campaigning.

All elected officials must be careful not to abuse the bureaucracy, just as civil servants are legally required not to engage in most political activities.

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