Our Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, who oversees the CDC and FDA, responded to the need for focus on COVID-19 by…looking around and picking an old pal. Who previously ran a labradoodle breeding business.

Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19. The aide, Brian Harrison, had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years. Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him “the dog breeder.”

He has absolutely no qualifications for running a national response to a public health crisis.

Harrison, 37, was an unusual choice, with no formal education in public health, management, or medicine and with only limited experience in the fields. In 2006, he joined HHS in a one-year stint as a “Confidential Assistant” to Azar, who was then deputy secretary. He also had posts working for Vice President Dick Cheney, the Department of Defense and a Washington public relations company.

Before joining the Trump Administration in January 2018, Harrison’s official HHS biography says, he “ran a small business in Texas.” The biography does not disclose the name or nature of that business, but his personal financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 until 2018 he ran a company called Dallas Labradoodles.

I work at a state-funded institution. There are so many rules on hiring…I can’t just tap on old college chum on the shoulder and say, “Hey, we need someone to teach biochemistry. Would you like to…?” and then they say “But I work in construction!” and I tell them “Wing it, I’m sure you could do it” and fill out all the paperwork to get them a salary and the university rubber stamps it and next thing you know, we’ve got some seat-warmer running our biochem class by having the students sit and watch episodes of “Planet Earth” on a VCR. That’s what this feels like.

Instead, we convened a committee, wrote a detailed description of required qualifications, met with HR to get the ground rules explained to us, advertised the position nationally, screened a hundred applications, had phone interviews with 10, brought 3 to campus for a job/teaching talk, argued over the choices, and finally, after months of work, got an agreeable candidate, so we could submit paperwork to our division chair, who passed it on to the chancellor of our university, who got the approval of the president of the university and all its branch campuses, which meant we could finally put this person to work. All that, to hire one professor at a small liberal arts university in rural Minnesota.

We don’t put anywhere close to that much effort in selecting the national coordinator of our pandemic response? This is a problem. This is how idiots get placed in positions of power and influence when there is no process and no required minimal qualifications for an important job.

I do kind of wonder what Brian Harrison honestly feels about this appointment. I have more qualifications than he does — at least I have a biology degree — and if Alex Azar had mysteriously asked me to take on this job, I would have turned him down flat and said he needed to get someone with far more experience in public health than I do. Does the labradoodle breeder now sit in his office wondering how the hell he got there and having no clue how to start, who to contact, how to prioritize critical tasks with no knowledge about what any of the tasks are? Or is he so Dunning-Kruegered that he’s supremely confident that he can fix things, and is more happy that he can brag to his friends and family about how important he is?

No, really, if I suddenly swapped places with Brian Harrison I’d be having a total nervous breakdown right now, and trying desperately to find some better person to take my place. But then, I’ve never bred labradoodles.


  1. wzrd1 says

    Did you honestly expect better from an maladministration that pushed an antibiotic and antibiotic famous for causing cardiac conduction problems, which then resulted in patient deaths?

    Next, Trump will be pulling out a Magic 8-ball and proclaiming it an expert in everything, just like he isn’t.

    Oh joy! A news story I just noticed, the pride of Philadelphia decided to transport 7 deceased patients from a hospital to the Philadelphia Medical Examiner by open bed private pickup truck from a private funeral home, who now no longer has services required by the medical center.
    I wonder if they’d simply use a forklift if it was a dozen?
    Interestingly, it was from the Einstein Medical Center, centered in a poverty stricken neighborhood, so I guess the deceased couldn’t afford better fare.
    Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised again, someone proves precisely how ingenious fools can be.

  2. bcwebb says

    Don’t forget that Alex Azar, himself, worked for as pharmaceutical company, wait for it, as a lobbyist and had a law degree and no training in biology or medicine. No chance Trump was going to appoint some pointy headed scientist to Health and Human Sciences.

  3. stroppy says

    It’s a schmoozey fact of government that it is porous. Sooner or later characters worm their way in who want to run it like a family business/club house; and given a little power and the fact that they’re too stupid to know how stupid they are, stupidity ensues.

  4. kome says

    It’s like every single move the Republicans have made in the past 20 years (at least!) have been precisely the opposite of what an intelligent or moral person would make.

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    There you libtards go again! Standing in the way of salt-of-Earth, American PATRIOTS of rising above their means and serving this (again) GREAT nation! I suppose you want to put another one of your Atheist Intellectual ELITISTS in charge, using their science falsely so called (sic) from they got from their MARXIST universities! Well I got news for you Mr. GODLESS LIBERAL BIOLOGIST, the only true knowledge we need comes from the Bible, your gut, and the wisdom you learned on your Grandpappy’s knee!


    Yuck! Pardon me, I need a shot of brain bleach (i.e. Segrams 7, yes it’s rotgut, but it’s cheap and it works) to wash out the memory of that performance. I’ve been doing a lot of morning drinking lately…

  6. says

    Putting cronies into ambassador jobs only risks killing a few dozen CIA spooks and stooges because the inexperienced crony likely can’t keep secrets.

    The clown appointed here is going from dog breeder to disease breeder.

  7. raven says

    So far the Trump regime has dropped every single ball that exists in dealing with this pandemic.
    Timing, testing, PPE, supplying medical equipment to the hospitals, etc..
    By now, we know that Trump/GOP is never going to get it together.

    The next balls to drop will be opening up our economy again.
    They have no idea how to do this and no idea how to figure it out.
    That is why the feds suddenly left it up to the states.
    If and when the states fail, they can blame the states.

  8. Larry says

    raven @ #10

    Obama’s pandemic team briefed about 30 incoming trumpistas about the preparation they’d made for dealing with a crisis pandemic exactly like the one we’re now experiencing. These were senior whitehouse staff and cabinet-level people. Of course, being that it came from Obama, it was dismissed and ignored and ridiculed. When COVID19 struck, most of the people who attended the briefing were long gone, not that they would of been of any help, anyway.. Trump then issued his “I know nothing” response that you could never really think this could happen. And so, here we are, trapped in a situation over which we have no control being “led” by someone who isn’t nearly as “smart” as the virus and 10x more dangerous. Meanwhile, the MAGAts are irrefutably convinced that Trump’s response is the greatest ever and that he’s really pwning the libs.

  9. PaulBC says

    As late as 2005, we still understood that “Heckuva job, Brownie!” was the wrong way to staff FEMA. Now it’s “heckuva job” all around, with a big “Heckuva leadership, Donnie!” at each press briefing. It didn’t start with Trump. In fact, qualified people were the exception already under George W. Bush. The difference now is that the few qualified people have to lie low or they risk being fired for actually knowing what they’re doing.

  10. daverytier says

    Unbelievable. Failed state ending with -istan level of corruption. Yet, it is happening and a minority large enough to hold onto power is OK with it, so it will go on and get worse.

  11. Mark says

    A crony’s job is to be the liaison between the experts and the incompetent administrators. We can’t have the experts talking directly to the administrators, who become flustered when confronted with facts, data, terminology, and reality. The administrators only want to hear a rosy bullet-point synopsis of the state of things and a monosyllabic yes-man to present it to them. The experts would make the administrators feel stupid if they gave the presentation. And the experts would show up the entire administration if they had microphone access at press conferences. The crony is the lackey, who lacks dignity and self-respect and who will take one for the team by being fired, only to be offered another ass-kissing job somewhere down the line “because he’s loyal.”

  12. daverytier says

    A crony’s job is to be the liaison between the experts and the incompetent administrators.

    The snag being that the crony is as allergic to knowledge and truth as the admin is, thus necessitating another liaison between him and the experts… And the process repeats recursively until it’s cronies all the way down and no experts left.

  13. raven says

    You are looking at this the wrong way.

    “Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19.”

    The trusted former dog breeder isn’t really supposed to lead anything to do with solving the Covid-19 virus pandemic.
    It is to look busy while Trump, the GOP, and the ruling 1% oligarchies loot the USA, and divert the money for economic relief to themselves any way they can.

    You know when trillions of dollars are being spent in a hurry with minimal oversight, that there are people siphoning it off to their bank accounts as fast as they can.

  14. robro says

    Not only did they put a Republican grifter with no experience in an important position, but they drove out Dr. Rick Bright, HHS deputy assistant secretary of health and human services for preparedness and response and director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA. Dr. Bright said in a statement issued by his lawyers. Here’s his statement:

    “Yesterday, I was removed from my positions as the Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response by the Administration and involuntarily transferred to a more limited and less impactful position at the National Institutes of Health. I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit. I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.

    “I have spent my entire career in vaccine development, in the government with CDC and BARDA and also in the biotechnology industry. My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this — to confront and defeat a deadly virus that threatens Americans and people around the globe. To this point, I have led the government’s efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this resulted in clashes with HHS political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early in vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.

    “Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think “outside the box” for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public. I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician. These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with COVID-19.

    “Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis.

    “I will request that the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit. Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.

    “I am very grateful for the bipartisan support from Congress and their confidence in my leadership of BARDA as reflected in the generous appropriation to BARDA in the CARES 3 Act. It is my sincere hope that the dedicated professionals at BARDA and throughout HHS will be allowed to use the best scientific acumen and integrity to continue their efforts to stop the pandemic without political pressure or distractions. Americans deserve no less.”

    wzrd1 @ #1 — Strictly speaking not an “antibiotic”, but an antimalarial or antiparasitic. In addition to the potential problems with using it, including reducing supplies for those who need it, and the VA study that showed increased fatalities, I read that overuse of an antiparasitic can lead to resistance in the parasite.

  15. PaulBC says


    A crony’s job is to be the liaison between the experts and the incompetent administrators. We can’t have the experts talking directly to the administrators, who become flustered when confronted with facts, data, terminology, and reality.

    Well, Jared seems to think it’s his job to “think out of the box.” This is infinitely worse than a lackey who just repackages expert opinion for the big boss.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Our esteemed host did not link to his source, apparently Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor at, who also inform us:

    Azar is a Republican lawyer who once clerked for the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and counts current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a friend. Under George W. Bush, Azar worked for HHS as general counsel and deputy secretary. During the Obama years, he cycled through the private sector as a pharmaceutical company lobbyist and executive for Eli Lilly.

    Reached by phone, Harrison declined to answer Reuters’ questions. In a later statement, he did not address questions about the task force but said he was proud of his work history. “Americans would be well served by having more government officials who have started and worked in small family businesses and fewer trying to use that experience to attack them and distort the record,” he wrote.

    Azar told the public: “I want to stress: The risk of infection for Americans remains low.”

    “But thanks to President Trump’s historically aggressive containment efforts, we’ve actually contained the spread of this virus here in the United States at this point,” he said February 25. “I think part of the message to the American people is we all need to take a bit of deep breath here.”

    “The government is working on this. You’ve got the right people on this.”

    Where did I leave my torches and pitchforks?

  17. chrislawson says

    wzard1 —

    Agree with your comment, but hydroxycholoroquine (HCQ) is not an antibiotic. For historical reasons, the word “antibiotic” is only used for drugs that kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. Strictly speaking they should be called “antibacterials”, but they usually aren’t.

    HCQ has no useful* antibacterial properties. It has no useful effects against viruses, fungi, algae, or protists either. It works very specifically against malaria but no other protozoa. This is because of a quirk of malaria’s metabolism and even then is only effective during one phase of its life cycle.

    It’s an interesting bit of biochemistry, btw. When malaria parasites digest haemoglobin, they produce heme, a toxic waste product. If heme builds up, it will kill the parasite. Malaria converts heme into an insoluble crystal called hemozoin, which sequesters the heme. HCQ blocks the formation of hemozoin, making malaria cells poison themselves with their own metabolism.

    (* I say useful because like many compounds, it has been tested in vitro and been shown to work against other organisms but not at feasible doses. For instance in which HCQ was shown to be effective against a culture of Borrelia…at a concentration 125x higher than the standard human dosing and therefore lethal to any patient. The authors nevertheless concluded that “these observations may be valuable in the treatment of resistant infections”.)

  18. PaulBC says

    Pierce R. Butler@24

    “Americans would be well served by having more government officials who have started and worked in small family businesses and fewer trying to use that experience to attack them and distort the record,”

    That’s quite an assertion. I assume he has the empirical analysis to back up this conclusion. Hahahahahahaha, no, of course not.

    Would we be “well served” with plumbers whose experience does not involve any training as plumbers? Doctors who learned their skills fixing injuries that occurred in their mom-and-pop hardware store? Rocket scientists who have never studying Newton’s laws but do know how to build a mean potato cannon?

    I am not knocking the intangible value of bringing in people with unconventional backgrounds, though it would be nice if people at least tried to justify a claim like that instead of slipping it in as “everyone knows.” I am really sick of people passing off conservative dogma as common sense. In many cases it is literally contrary to common sense (most people would like public health professionals handling difficult public health issues). Even when it does “sound good” that does not make it right. I think to a first order approximation, we are “well served” by appointing people who know what they’re doing. If there is a second-order effect in which naive laypeople add a certain je ne sais quoi, that is something that would really need to be demonstrated before using it to direct public policy decisions.

  19. captainjack says

    Who Cares @ #8
    Especially since the administration’s already full of talented amateurs.

  20. PaulBC says

    Susan Montgomery@28

    The GOP solution is a lot worse because the bodies pile up randomly without any plans for how to collect them. I have yet to see one “fast reopening” solution that includes an analysis of the load on refrigerated trucks and crematories. I am pretty sure we have the industrial capacity, and as a side benefit, there would be a short term employment boost disposing of the dead. So this is clearly a lot more tractable than solutions requiring ICU load, expanded testing, and PPE. Yet for some reason, people like Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick never want to talk about this part of the plan.

  21. daverytier says

    ^^^^ @32 – you sound like a spambot… let’s run some Turing test on you – show me you are not ;-)

  22. publicola says

    Who Cares @8: Wish I had said that. Marcus @15: Wish I had said that, too. Larry @12: This is what happens when you put Sgt. Schultz in charge. PaulBC @23: Jared couldn’t think his way out of a paper bag, never mind a box.

  23. wzrd1 says

    @Robro & chrislawson, thanks for the catch. My head’s like Swiss cheese lately.
    I meant the azithromycin as an antibiotic, not the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, although both ar linked to cardiac conduction issues.*

    A new black eye for Tyson. Apparently, they administered an antiprotozoal ionophores to chickens before slaughtering them, then labeled them as antibiotic and drug free.
    After that dust cleared and the government stopped looking closely, they then administered gentamicin to chickens shortly before slaughter, again marking the meat as antibiotic free. Hearing loss and kidney damage be damned if a consumer was sensitive to it.
    And now, they waited until hundreds of workers became ill, with some dying of COVID-19 before they finally allowed political pressure to force them to close their plants. Workers stated that the company complained about production, rather than ensuring social distancing and other preventative measures.
    But, what do you expect of an outfit that has a bit over one worker per month lose a finger or limb?

    At least Smithfield shut down before having to be heavily pressured by the community leadership.
    Huh, Smithfield is a heavy producer of heparin from pig intestines, other sources are cow lungs. That might turn into an issue with so many COVID-19 patients experiencing what looks a lot like DIC.

    I am concerned over some political types trying to hang their hat on antibody testing, as that doesn’t rule out a remaining infection with the virus.

    I got in the habit working in military medicine to *not abbreviate a drug name, as that was discouraged quite strongly after some medication errors caused by misunderstood abbreviated drug names resulted in patient deaths.