Bureaucracy Too Much for Departing Science Official

Friday, 14 Mar 2014 07:03 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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A crippling bureaucracy has driven the director of the Office of Research Integrity — which monitors research misconduct by government-funded biomedical grant recipients — to resign, describing the majority of his post as "the very worst job I have ever had," ScienceInsider reports.

"I knew coming into this job about the bureaucratic limitations of the federal government, but I had no idea how stifling it would be," ORI Director David Wright wrote in his resignation letter. "What I was able to do in a day or two as an academic administrator takes weeks or months in the federal government, our precinct of which is OASH (Office of Assistant Secretary of Health)."

ORI is part of the Health and Human Services Department.

Wright, a Ph.D. who came to the agency in January 2012 from Michigan State University, lauded the "brilliant science investigators" with whom he worked, but painted a picture of an agency "with a flawed organizational culture" that is "secretive, autocratic, and unaccountable."

The agency is more concerned with looking, rather than being, productive, according to Wright.

"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," he wrote to his boss, Howard Koh, the assistant secretary for health.

"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.'"

Wright offers several examples of the tangled red tape atmosphere at ORI, including an urgent request he made to appoint a director for the agency’s division of education. He was told the position was on a "secret priority list of appointments." It remains vacant 16 months later.

Wright plans to publish a daily log he’s kept as ORI director "to share my experience and observations with my colleagues in government and with members of the regulated research community."

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