'I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy...is so profoundly dysfunctional,' Writes Former HHS Official

David E. WrightOffice of Reseach IntegrityThe results of government bureaucracy are all too apparent—wasted resources, endless delays, pointless expenditures. From the outside, bureaucrats often appear to cheerfully function inside a cruel and inefficient loony bin. So how gratifying (if not reassuring) it is when an escapee from the system tells us that the view is no better from the inside.

David E. Wright came from academia in 2011 to take over the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) efforts against research misconduct at the Office of Research Integrity. Just over two years later, he's out of his own accord, and saying that, while he enjoyed working with "brilliant scientist-investigators" he describes most of his responsibilities as "the very worst job I have ever had."

ScienceInsider obtained a copy of his February 25 resignation letter to Dr. Howard Koh, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health. Among other disappointments and roadblocks he details, this may be my favorite:

In one instance, by way of illustration, I urgently needed to fill a vacancy for an ORI division director.  I asked the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (your deputy) when I could proceed.  She said there was a priority list.  I asked where ORI’s request was on that list.  She said the list was secret and that we weren’t on the top, but we weren’t on the bottom either. Sixteen months later we still don’t have a division director on board.

Wright also cites Max Weber to note that "public bureaucracies quit being about serving the public and focus instead on perpetuating themselves. This is exactly my experience."

He's concerned, too, that "decisions are often made on the basis of political expediency and to obtain favorable 'optics.'"

Ultimately, the former director writes, "I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy—at least the part I’ve labored in—is so profoundly dysfunctional."

Wright's tenure as a government employee ends March 27, after which time he'll publish the daily log he kept as ORI Director.

But while Wright may be out, the bureaucracy he escaped lives on, and on, and on...

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  • prolefeed||

    I'd say a government bureaucracy is NEVER about serving the public.

  • prolefeed||

    For instance, this morning took my GF to the local DMV to renew her driver's license -- not because that was something to benefit herself, but because the government wants to control its subjects by deciding who will be allowed to drive a car, and threatening to toss people in a cage if they resist being ordered around like that.

    An hour waiting in line, being told she had to "surrender" her old license, only to have their computers malfunction and them telling her to come back after lunch and maybe then they'll have their act together.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    An hour waiting in line, being told she had to "surrender" her old license, only to have their computers malfunction and them telling her to come back after lunch and maybe then they'll have their act together.

    You could spend the free time at Planned Parenthood perusing the various health care options available to you with the help of a certified navigator.

  • Mainer2||

    This is like those GEICO commercials. You can save 15 % or more on car insurance in 15 minutes...

    "Everybody knows that."

    This guy had to work for a bureaucracy to understand the waste and inefficency ?

    Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Notice that this brainiac couldn't understand waste and inefficiency in academia.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Sixteen months later we still don’t have a division director on board.

    It's nice to know the administration doesn't know how to efficiently make government employment opportunities any more than private sector ones.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You know what they need? A Department of Resource Efficiency, to oversee the various offices and agencies and bureaus and make certain they are effective. In fact, that might be an important enough task to give to a czar.

  • Brian D||

    And a Department of Managerial Efficiency to oversee them!

  • Brandon||

    It's Departments all the way down!

  • avocats||

    Bet they already had one AND that Obama ALSO hired a czar to do it.

  • All-Seeing Monocle||

    Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary

    Really all you need to see right there.

  • Lord Humungus||

    It's like a Retief story... Second Assistant Deputy Undersecretary

  • avocats||

    Exactly. And those layers exist everywhere.

    As a teen I was hired for a federal summer program for which there was no work to be done. They "had to" hire summer college kids to be thought busy. I couldn't read a book or do anything to keep busy. Hardest job I ever had.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    [insert expostulation of amazement]

  • flye||

    *spit take*

  • Ivan Pike Trolle||

    Meh, all bureaucracies can be difficult to navigate. Especially if you are new to them.

  • Sevo||

    Ivan Pike Trolle|3.14.14 @ 11:14AM|#
    "Meh, all bureaucracies can be difficult to navigate. Especially if you are new to them."

    So everything's just fine?

  • Ivan Pike Trolle||

    So everything's just fine?

    Considering HHS should not even exist, not really. My point was he came from MSU, a bureaucracy, and assumed that a Federal Government bureaucracy would work the same. Some of his claims I find, um..unlikely, but who knows. Some departments do well with what they are supposed to do, but others do not.

  • OldMexican||

    Wright also cites Max Weber to note that "public bureaucracies quit being about serving the public and focus instead on perpetuating themselves. This is exactly my experience."


    I am sorry to bust your bubble, my friend, but you show your credulity by stating a belief in the myth of public service.

  • Ivan Pike Trolle||

    One of my favorite books. Even though I am a bureaucrat.

  • kevrob||

    So he has a Phd in "American Studies" from Sparty. Quoting Weber, or even Mises, on bureaucracy is perfectly cromulent, but, ***sheeesh****, has't he heard of James M. Buchanan, Jr.and Public Choice theory? Only won the 1986 Nobel?

    Reminds me of a socialistology prof I had as an undergrad, who was unaware of the Austrian view that the Great Depression was caused by government meddling. Mentioned Mises and Hazlitt to her and her eyes glazed over. She'd never even heard of Eugen Böhm von Bawerk.

    Academics can be a bit "stovepiped" - brilliant inside theri discipline, clueless outside of it. Someone who has a terminal area degree, that one would, I assume, be cross-disciplinary, shouldn't have had to learn this the hard way.

    Kevin R

  • NL_||

    My dad left the non-profit world to work in the portion of state government that operated in the same space as his non-profit experience. He lasted maybe a year before moving on. One anecdote: on arrival, he discovered that an approval process slated to take no more than X days was instead taking two to four times as long, on average; when he asked what steps were being taken to move the agency into statutory compliance with the deadline, he received blank stares and silence. There's just no accountability, in part because the system is rigged that way.

    Most government programs exist for the sake of existing, so politicians can prove they care about an issue and so voters and taxpayers can feel like somebody is fixing a certain issue. Actual results are not really the point of the exercise. To the extent that a social problem is reduced, it just encourages trimming the budget and scope of the corresponding agency.

  • Eric Bana||

    Case in point: Head Start

    There are no lasting benefits to children, and many of the children do not actually come from qualifying families. The Republican from my House district argued for "smart" spending, and Head Start was included for him. It's the name/goals that count, not the actual results.

    Add to this the well over $900 billion spent on anti-poverty initiatives at all government levels that do not bring people out of poverty.

  • SugarFree||

    Head Start is "free" daycare for people who are home all day anyway.

  • Hopfiend||

    It is simply a case of improper incentives. The govt worker has no incentive to perform, have robust union protections and the managers have no financial incentive. There are good people, but moving the blob is difficult to impossible. People either grown cynical and do their best, give up and leave, or give up and stay. Another problem is a lack of top down vision/mission.

  • avocats||

    You overlook the most insidious factor--the never-ending mission creep.

  • avocats||

    Yes, yes, yes. True that.

  • Raston Bot||

    shocked.

    :|

    ^shocked face

  • kmc212||

    Ultimately, the former director writes, "I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy—at least the part I’ve labored in—is so profoundly dysfunctional."

    What did Dr. Wright expect? If Dr. Wright would stop only reading liberal propaganda, he would become aware of how dysfunctional government bureaucracy is.

  • Brandon||

    Yes, but I am extremely gratified that he actually learned how the system works once he saw it first hand and rejected it rather than becoming another self-serving empire-builder.

  • kmc212||

    Wright only only had spoken about the HHS being dysfunctional. In his statement he has not rejected, and will never reject because he is a pinko, government bureaucracy as a whole.

  • ||

    The fundamental problem here is an expectation of a public service bureaucracy to EVER be functional. By rule of human nature, is proportionally dysfunctional to its size.

    I'm not one who has become so cynical to believe that are public servants are simply opportunistic and are not egalitarian. There is certainly a "public service" concept that exists. But it will always, ALWAYS, be overwhelmed by the lack of systemic incentives to perform.

    It all comes down to incentives. When you incentive structure is based on relying on the goodness of your employees, well you're fucked.

  • R C Dean||

    I deal with reasonably high-level bureaucrats. As individuals, they are generally knowledgable, diligent, etc.

    But they are embedded in a system that negates, and even inverts, all that.

  • ||

    ORI, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), monitors alleged research misconduct by researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other Public Health Service (PHS) agencies.

    Think of how little research misconduct there would be to monitor if the federal government got out of the business of funding research and let the market determine the best use of resources rather than politics.

  • Brandon||

    But then the *important* things would never be researched!

    -Standard talking point.

  • sarcasmic||

    People over profits!

  • Injun, as in from India||

    "The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program." - Ronald Reagan

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Actually repairing the infinity of problems that exist within our current governing structures IS the ultimate Utopian ideal.

  • pan fried wylie||

    the view is no better from the inside

    "The voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new vistas, but in having new eyes."

    -Some calendar I had a long time ago

  • Swiss Servator, alles klar?||

    "...but in having new eyes"

    We agree!

    /Tleilaxu

  • BlueA#||

    Mr. Wright reminds me of Casablanca's Captain Renault, in that he is "shocked, SHOCKED" to discover that the HHS is profoundly dysfunctional. All he needs is a cigarette and Marcel Dalio handing him his "winnings" and he could stand in for Claude Rains.

  • waffles||

    This expression, optics, what does it mean? Is it just a way to describe the way an agency is viewed from the outside?

  • RishJoMo||

    There is a dude that seems to know what day it is.

    www.Anon-Works.com

  • Mr. Soul||

    That pic evokes memories of Star Trek redshirts. Seems rather apt.

  • GILMORE||

    ""I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy—at least the part I’ve labored in—is so profoundly dysfunctional.""

    I'm offended as an American Taxpayer that any other taxpayer labors under the delusion that the federal bureaucracy would be a *good* thing if it only 'worked better'.

    I for one thank God every day that their corrosive impulse to control every dimension of human life is stymied by their very own incompetence and organizational inefficiency.

  • Invisible Finger||

    David E. Wright came from academia in 2011 to take over the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) efforts

    Certainly the first place I'D go for hires if I wanted zero productivity would be academia.

  • avocats||

    Ditto what he said. And, yes, it really does take some time inside the beast to appreciate how bad it is.

  • Jayburd||

    Yeah, but gay marriage.

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