The 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…