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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attends an event held in observance of World AIDS Day at the White House in Washington December 2, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama and his HealthCare.gov website face another critical test starting this week, as Americans who have been unable to enroll in health coverage under Obamacare rush to a site that continues to face challenges.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTX161D1 U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attends an event held in observance of World AIDS Day at the White House in Washington December 2, 2013. U.S. President Barack Obama and his HealthCare.gov website face another critical test starting this week, as Americans who have been unable to enroll in health coverage under Obamacare rush to a site that continues to face challenges. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTX161D1  

HHS official resigns, pens a must-read rebuke of federal bureaucracy

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Caroline May
Political Reporter

A Health and Human Services official has resigned after dealing with the frustration of the “profoundly dysfunctional” federal bureaucracy, which left him “offended as an American taxpayer.”

In a resignation letter obtained by ScienceInsider, David Wright, director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) — which oversees and monitors possible research misconduct — offers a scathing rebuke of the unwieldy and inefficient bureaucracy that he dealt with for the two years he served in the position.

In his letter to Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, Wright explains that the 35 percent of his job that was spent working with science-investigators in his department “has been one of the great pleasures of my long career.” The majority of his duties, however, represented his worst job ever.

“The rest of my role as ORI Director has been the very worst job I have ever had and it occupies up to 65% of my time,” he wrote. ”That part of the job is spent navigating the remarkably dysfunctional HHS bureaucracy to secure resources and, yes, get permission for ORI to serve the research community.  I knew coming into this job about the bureaucratic limitations of the federal government, but I had no idea how stifling it would be.”

According to Wright, activities that in his capacity as an academic administrator that took a day or two, took weeks and months in the federal government.

He recalled an instance in which he could not get approval for a $35 cost to have cassette tapes converted into CDs. He eventually was able to get them converted in 20 minutes for free by a university. And another instance in which he “urgently needed to fill a vacancy,” but was told there was secret priority list. Sixteen months later, he wrote, the position was still unfilled.

“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,” he wrote. ”She responded that that had been tried a few years ago and the results were so negative that no further evaluations have been conducted.”

Wright closed by saying he plans to publish his daily log to further shed light on his work.

“As for the rest, I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy — at least the part I’ve labored in — is so profoundly dysfunctional. I’m hardly the first person to have made that discovery, but I’m saddened by the fact that there is so little discussion, much less outrage, regarding the problem. To promote healthy and productive discussion, I intend to publish a version of the daily log I’ve kept as ORI Director in order to share my experience and observations with my colleagues in government and with members of the regulated research community,” he wrote.

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