Surprise: HHS Official Resigns, Citing Agency's "Dysfunction"

Posted: Mar 15, 2014 8:45 AM
Surprise: HHS Official Resigns, Citing Agency's "Dysfunction"

Just how functional is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)? Not very -- if there’s even a kernel of truth to David Wright’s blistering resignation letter from the federal agency:

A Health and Human Services official is having a very public take-this-job-and-shove-it moment.

David Wright, the director of the federal agency's Office of Research Integrity, sent a scathing resignation letter to his boss late last month detailing -- with the precision of a seasoned researcher -- all his reasons for quitting the federal government. The letter catalogued the frustrations of getting minor expenses approved, of navigating department politics and of spinning his wheels on producing "repetitive and often meaningless data and reports to make our precinct of the bureaucracy look productive."

"I'm offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy -- at least the part I've labored in -- is so profoundly dysfunctional," Wright wrote to Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH) Howard Koh.

Reading excerpts from Mr. Wright’s letter one wonders how the federal government ever thought they could possibly manage the task of successfully signing Americans up for health insurance on October 1, 2013. That was an unrealistic launch date. The botched roll-out of, then, was a foregone conclusion and not an after-the-fact disaster. And Mr. Wright's spirited letter, perhaps, provides some clues as to why that's the case:

The transition from university life to the government was apparently too much.

"This has been at once the best and worst job I've ever had," he wrote, reflecting fondly on his research work before launching into a tirade over everything else he did -- namely "navigating the remarkably dysfunctional HHS bureaucracy to secure resources and, yes, get permission for ORI to serve the research community."

He described asking, to no avail, to free up $35 at one point to convert tapes to CDs for a presentation. He ended up having to do it himself at a university.

Wright recalled how, when he needed to "urgently" fill a vacancy, he was told there was a "secret" priority list. But after 16 months, the position was never filled anyway.

And he lamented how he was told by superiors to "make my bosses look good" and "lower my expectations" in government service.

Dear gosh. If this is how the agency is run, it's unsurprising the Obamacare roll-out was an abject disaster. Still, there are many competent people who work for the federal government, many of whom do so out of a profound sense of patriotism. But resignation letters such as these don’t exactly inspire confidence in government institutions -- or government leaders, for that matter. Keep up the good work, Secretary Sebelius.

We're all counting on you.

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