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Top U.S. Scientific Misconduct Official Quits In Frustration With Bureaucracy 172

Posted by timothy
from the an-exit-interview-I'd-like-to-overhear dept.
sandbagger writes "The director of the U.S. government office that monitors scientific misconduct in biomedical research has resigned after 2 years out of frustration with the 'remarkably dysfunctional' federal bureaucracy. Officials at the Office of Scientific Integrity spent 'exorbitant amounts of time' in meetings and generating data and reports to make their divisions look productive, David Wright writes. He huge amount of time he spent trying to get things done made much of his time at ORI 'the very worst job I have ever had.'"
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Top U.S. Scientific Misconduct Official Quits In Frustration With Bureaucracy

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  • by Old97 (1341297) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:18AM (#46472989)
    and its a large corporation in the private sector. Its hard for very large organizations to be efficient.
  • Been there. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Narcocide (102829) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:20AM (#46473011) Homepage

    The sickness is endemic, and not just in government either; pretty much all big business suffers from this once it reaches critical mass. Basically, when you have a hierarchy of people who are so separated by degrees of management tier that the bulk of them no longer care about the actual stated goal or task of the organization and don't interact socially or even actually know anyone high enough up in the organization who does, and then you let them self-schedule their time in business meetings, every business meeting will become an elaborate excuse to not do any work. The meetings themselves look like work from a distance though, so this type of dysfunctional situation can persist for decades without anyone who cares actually noticing.

  • by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:23AM (#46473031)

    In a system where your rewards are based on the look of powerpoint presentations that are delivered to directors, you end up spending all your time optimizing the data on the slides. The same principle is applied all over the place, in almost every human endeavor. Using the wrong measure of progress means we waste time and effort. It also has a side effect of making everyone miserable, like the guy in this story. See health care, prison system, etc.

    By the way, this isn't a problem unique to the government. His gripes sound very similar to my reality. I work in a large aerospace company.

  • Re:Been there. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue (588132) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:26AM (#46473073) Homepage Journal
    The reason is quite simple: we have all the technology and resources required so that people DON'T need to work, that was the whole concept behind the leisure society.

    But instead we choose to continue with this outdated mentality of "40 hours a week for everyone" otherwise you're not a worthy human being.

    So, what do you do with all these people? Well, you make them spend exorbitant amounts of time in meetings and generating data and reports to make them look productive.

    We are squandering the most glorious time in history in terms of energy resources, technology and machinery in order to maintain a social order that comes from the caves.

    Everyone is *so* productive in today's world! Oh my yes! That's why it takes two people working in a household today to barely maintain the lifestyle my single-income parents had 40 years ago!

    We're so productive, but *what* are we producing and for *who*?

  • by alen (225700) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:30AM (#46473117)

    the micromanaging is there due to the media

    no one is perfect and sometimes something happens where the media picks up on it, turns it into a major issue and starts calling for people in the government who made the decision to be fired.
    government workers know this and so they CYA everything they do down to the exact letter of the law or regulation

  • Re:Been there. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frobnicator (565869) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:34AM (#46473169) Journal

    The sickness is endemic, and not just in government either; pretty much all big business suffers from this once it reaches critical mass. ... every business meeting will become an elaborate excuse to not do any work.

    I think the description in his resignation goes far beyond the sickness you describe. In big business it gets broken up, either by intervention or by just firing everybody. This is far beyond just not working.

    One paragraph of the resignation letter that shows it off spectacularly:

    "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. She responded that that had been tried a few years ago and the results were so negative that no further evaluations have been conducted."

    So the person in charge says they tried to make it better years ago, but the environment was such a cesspool that they decided to not even bother trying to make it better.

    How do you even...?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @10:42AM (#46473237)

    It's not just the media. It's also Congress. Any member of Congress could decide to turn your group into a political football at any time. This is especially likely if you have spent money on something that is easy to mock.

    The problem is that "something that is easy to mock" can be fruit fly research or volcano monitoring. So basically any time you do your job, it could have negative political consequences. The only solution is to not do your job....

  • by tiberus (258517) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @11:16AM (#46473527)

    Add to this the lack of incentive to save money and you've got a right good mess. After spending time and effort to save funds on a program (government in this case), we ended the year with a surplus of funds (in the 10x of 1,000's range, I know it's a drop in the bucket but, we were quite proud at the time). When next year rolled around we were suddenly "poor estimators" and had "poor financial management", so our budget was cut by several times over our savings from last year.

    That was many years ago but, since then I experienced a similar mentality in the private sector, especially when dealing with government contracts.

    Also, our parent company recently took over management of our capital purchases. We have the money, we have the need, we have reviewed the data but, now it takes and extra 4-6 months to purchase something (e.g. a upgraded SAN). It seems that another subsidiary had some issue with their purchasing process, so rather than deal with the problem, Mother (our loving term for our parent company), created several more.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @11:17AM (#46473531)

    I've worked in both. Government is an order of magnitude worse in my experience.

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @11:33AM (#46473677)

    That is so true, in my experience also. Large companies have slow bureaucracies because they're large, and there's a lot of management overhead. The federal government is several orders of magnitude larger, and there's no incentive to succeed. Google is big, but Google employees know that if they don't get the job done , Apple and Microsoft will eat their lunch. If the federal bureau of whatever doesn't get the job done ... nothing, they'll still be there next year. Add to that the extra layers and layers of paperwork and crap because it's taxpayer money ...

    We see examples on Slashdot all the time. Some government decided to build a fiber network. Ten years and a billion dollars later, it's still not working. Google takes over and six months later - happy customers.

    Big companies are bureaucratic like an elephant is big.
    Government is bureaucratic like Jupiter is big.

  • by firex726 (1188453) <[moc.oohay] [ta] [627xerif]> on Thursday March 13, 2014 @12:45PM (#46474365)

    You can often see such a position argues in favor of having Private industry take over Public work in some areas.

    > The Government is bloated and slow and has no incentive, but the Private sector is competitive and results driven, so they should manage our prisons, red light cameras, etc...

    But then as it turns out the Private firm overestimated the cost savings and ends up cutting costs while costing the government the same or more for less quality service.

  • by GerryGilmore (663905) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @01:19PM (#46474717)
    I'd say that you're buying into the whole "governments are bad, mkay..." syndrome that affects a large swath of the population these days. In my experience, I've had great government work experiences and ultra-crappy private sector experiences and vice-versa. Perhaps the reason that government project failures get more attention is a combination of a very active propaganda machine always on the lookout for any government failure so that they can hype it mercilessly and that - overall - government projects tend to be larger. Just a thought....
  • Re:Been there. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 13, 2014 @01:32PM (#46474859)

    There is a defense for that. Worker productivity has increased due to capital improvements. A large factory with economy of scale with expensive and sophisticated processes that required a lot of R&D to devise and a lot of money to build are what make workers more productive. What did the workers do to make themselves more productive? Not much. The american worker isn't inherently better than those from other countries that our productivity is higher, yet we do get some of the benefit from it. The reality is that worker pay (in the US) will continue to go down as the effects of globalization continue until worker pay balances out more evenly internationally. That will happen primarily through worker pay increasing in other countries. Over a billion people lifted out of poverty in just a couple decades is a pretty darn good track record for these "powerful people" of yours.

  • by nmr_andrew (1997772) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @02:46PM (#46475603)

    Yes, biomedical misconduct is against the law, especially when it's funded with federal dollars. ORI only investigates (when bureaucracy allows them to) alleged incidents that are reported to them which only applies to HHS funded research, which is mostly NIH funded research. So it's 100% the business of the federal government. A typical investigation doesn't cost the government that much, anyway, since a lot of it involves making the institution that was awarded the grant (typically a university) conduct most of the investigation and report back, and most will because they want to continue having their other investigators receive NIH funding. Not to mention the university doesn't want to have the reputation of having faculty who misrepresent their research.

    Now, if you want to argue that the government shouldn't be funding this research in the first place in which case this office wouldn't be necessary, that's a different story (although I personally disagree with that).

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday March 13, 2014 @08:35PM (#46479041)

    Again, this should all be covered by the company that wins the bid. If they don't like it, they shouldn't bid on the contract.

    >because most of the requirements are out of date,

    Contractor's fault. If the requirements are impossible, tell the customer and don't bid.

    >were written by somone who had no idea what they were asking for

    Same as above.

    >or are missing critical pieces of functionality or details.

    Same as above.

    >Then you find out you need to integrate with a 35 year old Wang mainframe that runs some weird esoteric algorithm that no one alive understands.

    If that's in the contract you signed, you need to do it. If it isn't in the contract, don't do it, or re-bid for that portion.

    This would all be much simpler if both parties simply adhered to the terms of the contract. If the terms are unrealistic or impossible, don't bid.

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