Sam Brinton Lacks The Credibility Essential For A Technocrat

During my 40 or so years as a scientist in a government laboratory, I saw middle and senior management types come and go. Many of these were in the Senior Executive Service (SES) ranks—high-level policy-making, change-managing, coalition-building, results-driven leaders with business acumen, ranking just below presidential appointees.

While such folk’s primary role is institutional governance, none were successful unless they had the respect of the technical staff members who are the backbone of the agency. Too many SES managers lacked a record of scientific/engineering achievement and were not taken seriously. They lasted a year or so and moved on because scientists and engineers, being largely self-motivated, do not respect management lacking credibility. Successful SES-level managers bring an impressive record of technical accomplishments reflected in published articles and books, patents, and lectures delivered nationally and overseas, containing a well-articulated vision for the future.

Sam Brinton, a former Department of Energy SES manager who supervised the Office of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition (NE-8), has been in the news. Lately, Brinton has been defending himself against multiple charges of grand theft-suitcase, or whatever the exact legal specification might be.

Brinton is not especially well known for having impressive technical credentials; indeed, his credentials are meager. Rather, Brinton is well known because he is a “gender-fluid” person who likes flamboyant clothing and makeup, a transexual with a husband kept on a leash.

With my libertarian outlook, I am fine with this. Gay sex between committed individuals can be a form of love, no different from the binary variety. Brinton also seems to be an intelligent person who has earned an interesting collection of degrees that include mechanical and nuclear engineering, vocal performance, and policy.

The problem I have with Brinton holding an SES technical management position at age 34 is his pathetically sparse record of scientific/engineering accomplishments since leaving school in 2013.

Image: Sam Brinton’s Official Department of Energy photo.

Google Scholar is a reliably comprehensive (i.e., as good as anything) collation of scientific/technical/policy output. It automatically archives people’s peer-reviewed and popular press articles (e.g., meeting abstracts, books, patents, etc.). Once you set up a Google Scholar page, the system automatically gathers and lists outputs going forward. More importantly, it also tags when others use these outputs in the form of a citation listing and other metrics. This is a measure of the impact one’s contributions have made in the field.

Brinton’s page is up to date, listing publications as of 2022. He hasn’t updated his affiliation, which states he is a graduate student at MIT, but that’s fine. The nice thing about Google Scholar is that it collates your output and impact without your lifting a finger.

Google Scholar’s automatic collation highlights a stark reality: others in his field have cited Brinton’s work a minuscule 45 times over his entire career. Brinton’s metrics include an “h” index of 4 (meaning that only 4 of his outputs have been cited at least 4 times) and an “i10” index of 2 (meaning that only two outputs have been cited at least 10 times).

I don’t want to get bogged down in the minutia of these metrics, but this record is patently abysmal. It means that nobody in his field has ever valued his contribution. Ever. The typical science or engineering student might have metrics at this scale before graduation. Most technical master’s degree grads typically have 200 or more citations to their work before leaving school.

But fully 10 years after receiving his master’s degree (from MIT, no less), Brinton’s objectively measured impact of record has been nil. Indeed, it would be unfair to say that Brinton has had little technical impact on his field; the reality is that he has had no impact.

I am unaware of a single SES-level manager in any agency whom the technical staff would accept if that person had Brinton’s output record. I doubt that there are any serving SES technical managers whose written works have only been cited 45 times.

So, the question one must ask is how did this 34-year-old land an SES slot? Here, the question answers itself.

Brinton was appointed (with Energy Secretary Granholm’s approval) simply because of his/her/their identity as a gender-fluid person who openly dresses in an unorthodox fashion. Brinton boasted (on video) that the most important aspect of the job is (or was, at this point) that a gender-fluid person has been made responsible for nuclear waste management.

Personally, I would be fine with this if he had technical gravitas, some measure of achievement and experience to which he could point (i.e., a body of peer-reviewed work that serves as building blocks for progress). This doesn’t exist. While a technocrat does not live or die by Google Scholar, it strains credulity when such a record is non-existent. (Contrast this with the record of Stephen Chu, President Obama’s energy secretary.)

Whatever causes Brinton to steal other people’s clothes at airports, and wear them, points to a mental illness that I hope can be addressed. Recent press reports state that Brinton may be subject to as many as 10 years in prison. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope instead that he receives treatment. But I also hope, for the good of the United States, that people of accomplishment become senior technical managers in technical agencies such as the Department of Energy.

Dr. Thomas J. Bruno, a scientist who retired after more than 40 years in research, amuses himself writing books and editing scientific journals, along with wood and metalworking.

If you experience technical problems, please write to