I continue to wonder why Richard Besser ’81 was not named Director of the Center for Disease Control given the almost universal praise that he received during the Swine Flu panic.

This week’s “attaboy” goes to Dr. Richard Besser, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who stands as the best example to date of the capabilities and professionalism of the nation’s career federal employees.

As we reported earlier this week, President Obama has filled only five of 20 nominated positions at the Department of Health and Human Services, including Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was confirmed earlier this week.

Ask any rank-and-file federal employee and they’ll likely say that while an agency can operate without political appointees, they need appointed political leadership to clearly define the mission, settle disagreements, coordinate efforts with other agencies and deliver a clear message to the public.

But Besser has served as a voice of calm reassurance from the moment the federal government elevated his efforts. He made important network morning show appearances on Monday, confidently answering questions as Americans began the new work week. He has spoken at daily press briefings, handled dozens of other interviews and generally acted as the public face of an agency still without a permanent leader.

So, why not appoint him to head CDC? An anonymous comment to that Washington Post story may provide a clue.

Dr. Besser is the calm now however, when he served as Director of the Office of Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness there was a whistleblower complaint that his office could not account for over two billion dollars of appropriated funding. If he could not handle two billion I seriously doubt that he will be able to manage the almost ten billion appropriated to the agency. Dr. Besser is part of the group that turned the CDC from a renowned health organization to a large group of highly paid incompetent federal employees and contractors. In addition, the office the Dr. Besser headed has abused contracts the same way that the agency has. To add insult to injury Dr. Besser’s Chief Management Officer (an engineer) is the Director of the Human Resources Office. CDC currently has almost 6000 contractors with a large number being former employees that took a government buy-out to retire and returned within days as contractors. Other contractors are hired and trained and then recruited through delegated examining. Commissioned Corp Officers that were medical officers are retiring on Saturday and return on Sunday as federal employees GS-15 medical officer with pay in the $200,000 and eight hours of annual leave. The accounting practices are so bad that there is no way to accurately track salaries and expenses. For example one office has 17 employees and their salaries total over 1.7 million dollars. This agency is in serious trouble and needs new leadership. There are some crucial issues at the CDC that need to be resolved and Dr. Besser is not the person to make the difficult changes that are necessary to restore CDC‘s creditability. CDC needs a skilled doctor that has the ability to restructure a work force that has the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform the work of the agency in a cost efficient manner.

Needless to say, I have no knowledge about the substance of these complaints, but they sure appear to come from a knowledgeable insider. Wide swaths of the Federal government are filled with this sort of retire-then-become-a-contractor sleaze. I am not sure that Besser could have done anything about it, even if he wanted to.

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