A TIME inquiry finds that at top positions in some vital government agencies, the Bush Administration is putting connections before experience
FROM SUNDAY'S TIME -- EXCERPTS (FULL PAID STORY): "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 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.
FEDERAL PROCUREMENT: David Safavian didn't have much hands-on experience in government contracting when the Bush Administration tapped him in 2003 to be its chief procurement officer. A law-school internship helping the Pentagon buy helicopters was about the extent of it. Yet as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Safavian, 38, was placed in charge of the $300 billion the government spends each year on everything from paper clips to nuclear submarines, as well as the $62 billion already earmarked for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. It was his job to ensure that the government got the most for its money and that competition for federal contractsóamong companies as well as between government workers and private contractorsówas fair. It was his job until he resigned on Sept. 16 and was subsequently arrested and charged with lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the Federal Government.
A dozen procurement experts interviewed by Time said he was the most unqualified person to hold the job since its creation in 1974. Nevertheless, Safavian's April 2004 confirmation hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (attended by only five of the panel's 17 members) lasted just 67 minutes, and not a single question was asked about his qualifications.
IMMIGRATION: The Administration nominated Myers, 36, currently a special assistant handling personnel issues for Bush. She has experience in law-enforcement management, including jobs in the White House and the Commerce, Justice and Treasury departments, but she barely meets the five-year minimum required by law. Her most significant responsibility has been as Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Commerce Department, where, she told Senators, she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget.
Myers may appear short on qualifications, but she has plenty of connections. She worked briefly for Chertoff as his chief of staff at the Justice Department's criminal division, and two days after her hearing, she married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John Wood. Her uncle is Air Force General Richard Myers, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Originally published on Sunday September 25, 2005.