September 26, 2005

Altruistic Behavior and Public Service

Is it just me or are there others who wish that more people would decide to go into public service because of a feeling of altruism.

al·tru·ism (ăl'trū-ĭz'əm) pronunciation
n.
  1. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
  2. Zoology. Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species.
Really, I know that it sounds naive but I cannot help but wish that I saw more examples of altruism and less of the networking. This article in Time Magazine just irritates me. I ask that some of you set aside your partisan politics as you read the following.
"In presidential politics, the victor always gets the spoils, and chief among them is the vast warren of offices that make up the federal bureaucracy. Historically, the U.S. public has never paid much attention to the people the President chooses to sit behind those thousands of desks. A benign cronyism is more or less presumed, with old friends and big donors getting comfortable positions and impressive titles, and with few real consequences for the nation.

But then came Michael Brown. When President Bush's former point man on disasters was discovered to have more expertise about the rules of Arabian horse competition than about the management of a catastrophe, it was a reminder that the competence of government officials who are not household names can have a life or death impact. The Brown debacle has raised pointed questions about whether political connections, not qualifications, have helped an unusually high number of Bush appointees land vitally important jobs in the Federal Government.

The Bush Administration didn't invent cronyism; John F. Kennedy turned the Justice Department over to his brother, while Bill Clinton gave his most ambitious domestic policy initiative to his wife. Jimmy Carter made his old friend Bert Lance his budget director, only to see him hauled in front of the Senate to answer questions on his past banking practices in Georgia, and George H.W. Bush deposited so many friends at the Commerce Department that the agency was known internally as "Bush Gardens." The difference is that this Bush Administration had a plan from day one for remaking the bureaucracy, and has done so with greater success.

As far back as the Florida recount, soon-to-be Vice President Dick Cheney was poring over organizational charts of the government with an eye toward stocking it with people sympathetic to the incoming Administration. Clay Johnson III, Bush's former Yale roommate and the Administration's chief architect of personnel, recalls preparing for the inner circle's first trip from Austin, Texas, to Washington: "We were standing there getting ready to get on a plane, looking at each other like: Can you believe what we're getting ready to do?"

The Office of Personnel Management's Plum Book, published at the start of each presidential Administration, shows that there are more than 3,000 positions a President can fill without consideration for civil service rules. And Bush has gone further than most Presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you've never heard of, and to give them genuine power over the bureaucracy. "These folks are really good at using the instruments of government to promote the President's political agenda," says Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and a well-known expert on the machinery of government. "And I think that takes you well into the gray zone where few Presidents have dared to go in the past. It's the coordination and centralization that's important here."

This just disgusts me. Read the abridged version about an appointment at the FDA.
"That is why many within the department, as well as in the broader scientific community, were startled when, in July, Scott Gottlieb was named deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs, one of three deputies in the agency's second-ranked post at FDA.

His official FDA biography notes that Gottlieb, 33, who got his medical degree at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, did a previous stint providing policy advice at the agency, as well as at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and was a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. What the bio omits is that his most recent job was as editor of a popular Wall Street newsletter, the Forbes/Gottlieb Medical Technology Investor, in which he offered such tips as "Three Biotech Stocks to Buy Now." In declaring Gottlieb a "noted authority" who had written more than 300 policy and medical articles, the biography neglects the fact that many of those articles criticized the FDA for being too slow to approve new drugs and too quick to issue warning letters when it suspects ones already on the market might be unsafe."

And then we see the following little ditty:
"Gottlieb's financial ties to the drug industry were at one time quite extensive. Upon taking his new job, he recused himself for up to a year from any deliberations involving nine companies that are regulated by the FDA and "where a reasonable person would question my impartiality in the matter." Among them are Eli Lilly, Roche and Proctor & Gamble, according to his Aug. 5 "Disqualification Statement Regarding Former Clients," a copy of which was obtained by TIME. Gottlieb, though, insists that his role at the agency is limited to shaping broad policies, such as improving communication between the FDA, doctors and patients, and developing a strategy for dealing with pandemics of such diseases as flu, West Nile virus and SARS.

Would he ever be involved in determining whether an individual drug should be on the market? "Of course not," Gottlieb told TIME. "Not only wouldn't I be involved in that ... But I would not be in a situation where I would be adjudicating the scientific or medical expertise of the [FDA] on a review matter. That's not my role. It's not my expertise. We defer to the career staff to make scientific and medical decisions."
It disgusts me, just disgusts me. There are other examples. Earlier I asked to set aside partisan politics for a moment because this post is not about bashing the current admin but about recognizing that this is a problem that is endemic to the system and is not limited to party lines.

We really need to find a way to try and prevent this nonsense. We need to demand accountability and do what we can to work on making sure that the people who are appointed have the background and experience for those positions because the reality is that in the long run we all suffer when they do not.

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1 comment:

Ezzie said...

I ask that some of you set aside your partisan politics as you read the following.

Two responses come to mind:
1. Put aside? Ha! No way!
2. I will, but they won't.

Good post Jack.