A glimpse inside the dysfunctional federal bureaucracy

Thomas Lifson
We are governed by an arrogant, dysfunctional, self-serving organization that couldn’t care less about us.  The federal bureaucracy, which increasingly behaves as our overlords, regulating what we may or may not do, prosecuting (or declining to prosecute) alleged wrongdoers, and spending roughly one dollar of every four in our economy (up from one in five in just a few years) is out of control and dangerous. And it is only “extremists” like tea partiers who propose to do anything about it.

We owe a debt of thanks to David Wright, an academic who was appointed to a senior role -- director of the U.S. government office that monitors scientific misconduct in biomedical research – two years ago, and has resigned in disgust, penning a letter of resignation that should be required reading for every member of Congress.

The Science Insider blog of Science Magazine reprints his letter, which offers examples of the serious dysfunction that he discovered. I urge all readers to read it in its entirety. But here are a couple of excerpts:

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.

On another occasion I asked your deputy why you didn’t conduct an evaluation by the Op-Divs of the immediate office administrative services to try to improve them.  She responded that that had been tried a few years ago and the results were so negative that no further evaluations have been conducted. (snip)

…public bureaucracies quit being about serving the public and focus instead on perpetuating themselves.  This is exactly my experience with OASH. We spend exorbitant amounts of time in meetings and in generating repetitive and often meaningless data and reports to make our precinct of the bureaucracy look productive.  None of this renders the slightest bit of assistance to ORI in handling allegations of misconduct or in promoting the responsible conduct of research.  Instead, it sucks away time and resources that we might better use to meet our mission.  Since I’ve been here I’ve been advised by my superiors that I had “to make my bosses look good.”  I’ve been admonished: “Dave, you are a visionary leader but what we need here are team players.”   Recently, I was advised that if I wanted to be happy in government service, I had to “lower my expectations.”  The one thing no one in OASH leadership has said to me in two years is ‘how can we help ORI better serve the research community?’  Not once.

... in this environment decisions are often made on the basis of political expediency and to obtain favorable “optics.” There is often a lack of procedural rigor in this environment

I have been saying for a while that the GOP should make the federal bureaucracy a target in its campaigning. The Democrats are the party of government, and federal bureuacrats and unions overwhelmingly support Democrats (see the IRS). The rest of the country increasingly understands that we are treated like serfs by those who once were regarded as "public servants," a term that is now a bitter, ironic joke.

We are governed by an arrogant, dysfunctional, self-serving organization that couldn’t care less about us.  The federal bureaucracy, which increasingly behaves as our overlords, regulating what we may or may not do, prosecuting (or declining to prosecute) alleged wrongdoers, and spending roughly one dollar of every four in our economy (up from one in five in just a few years) is out of control and dangerous. And it is only “extremists” like tea partiers who propose to do anything about it.

We owe a debt of thanks to David Wright, an academic who was appointed to a senior role -- director of the U.S. government office that monitors scientific misconduct in biomedical research – two years ago, and has resigned in disgust, penning a letter of resignation that should be required reading for every member of Congress.

The Science Insider blog of Science Magazine reprints his letter, which offers examples of the serious dysfunction that he discovered. I urge all readers to read it in its entirety. But here are a couple of excerpts:

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.

On another occasion I asked your deputy why you didn’t conduct an evaluation by the Op-Divs of the immediate office administrative services to try to improve them.  She responded that that had been tried a few years ago and the results were so negative that no further evaluations have been conducted. (snip)

…public bureaucracies quit being about serving the public and focus instead on perpetuating themselves.  This is exactly my experience with OASH. We spend exorbitant amounts of time in meetings and in generating repetitive and often meaningless data and reports to make our precinct of the bureaucracy look productive.  None of this renders the slightest bit of assistance to ORI in handling allegations of misconduct or in promoting the responsible conduct of research.  Instead, it sucks away time and resources that we might better use to meet our mission.  Since I’ve been here I’ve been advised by my superiors that I had “to make my bosses look good.”  I’ve been admonished: “Dave, you are a visionary leader but what we need here are team players.”   Recently, I was advised that if I wanted to be happy in government service, I had to “lower my expectations.”  The one thing no one in OASH leadership has said to me in two years is ‘how can we help ORI better serve the research community?’  Not once.

... in this environment decisions are often made on the basis of political expediency and to obtain favorable “optics.” There is often a lack of procedural rigor in this environment

I have been saying for a while that the GOP should make the federal bureaucracy a target in its campaigning. The Democrats are the party of government, and federal bureuacrats and unions overwhelmingly support Democrats (see the IRS). The rest of the country increasingly understands that we are treated like serfs by those who once were regarded as "public servants," a term that is now a bitter, ironic joke.