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.