Monday, December 06, 2004

In Praise of Tommy Thompson: "Good Riddance"

The Tommy Thompson Watch will soon have to be done in the rear view mirror. None too soon. Arguably the worst Secretary of Health and Human Services ever, Thompson leaves the job after four years of doing nothing substantive (except bad initiatives), wreaking managerial havoc and inserting Administration politics at every level, especially in science.

Describing his service as "challenging" (at least he is straightforward about being "challenged"), he said it was time to leave "public service" and write the "next chapter" in his life. I guess that would be Chapter 12, since he left public health in a virtual Chapter 11. Speculation on a successor (source) centered on Mark B. McClellan, a physician-economist who now administers the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within DHHS. McClellan is the brother of professional liar Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClelland .

Thompson claimed as an accomplishment the doubling of NIH's budget, although this was due to professional lobbying by the biomedical establishment and its congressional advocates. In reality, Thompson imposed a centralized bureaucratic structure on NIH where even simple travel requests had to go up the chain to the Secretary's Office. He also "outsourced" the NIH peer review staffing (yes, you heard me correctly). I have had the pleasure of seeing that "accomplishment" up close at NIH. It gave me a headache.

Here is another "accomplishment":

Thompson asked WHO to refer invitations of scientists to international meetings first to DHHS. (WHO refused, saying it would compromise the integrity of international scientific deliberations). Thompson's reason?
"No one knows better than HHS who the experts are and who can provide the most up-to-date and expert advice," [HHS spokesperson Tony Jewell] said. "The World Health Organization does not kow the best people to talk to, but HHS knows. If anyone things politics will interfere with Secretary Thompson's commitment to improve health in every corner of the world, they are sadly mistaken."
He is shocked, really shocked, as Claude Rains might say. It is important to note that scientists who attend these scientific review panels are invited and do so as scientists and do not represent their government or financial interests.

Here is more of Thompson's commitment to improving health "in every corner of the world." The request to WHO came from Thompson's Special Assistant, William Steiger who came with Thompson from Wisconsin. Steiger is the son of a contressman and, oh, by the way, I almost forgot, the godson of former President GHW Bush. A PhD in Latin American history with no prior health experience, Steiger was appointed to DHHS's Office of Global Health Affairs, one of Thompson's centralizing managerial "reforms" ("one HHS"), which Steiger characterized in Science> magazine as a "major expansion" of HHS's international activities. Yes, expansion into political meddling: "I see an increasing and pervasive squeezing of academic freedom by bureaucratic control," is how Gerald Keusch, former Director of NIH's Fogarty International Center put it. Steiger quickly got a reputation for "throwing [U.S.] power and authority around" in International Health matters. Sounds like he fits right in to this Administration. I'm sure he was the best one for the job, however. Thanks, Tommy.

There is more, much, much, more. So much that a single blog post would wear out even the most devoted visitor. Read the Science article about Steiger, the man who was doing Thompson's bidding. Here is the cite: Science, 9/10/04, p. 1552. See also, LA Times, June 26, 2004, T. Hamburger by-line.