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When Public Officials are More Concerned About Getting Things Wrong Than Getting Things Right

man in suit with head in the sand

This tentativeness can be exacerbated whenever an official’s competence is publicly called into question…

How is it that supremely educated and well-informed individuals in positions of high authority within government so often make colossal errors in judgment that were so predictably wrong-headed from the start? They just must have known what they were doing, right? The tendency is to assume that the decisions were based on some hidden concern or motivation that the average person cannot begin to fathom.

Perhaps it was a calculated move to draw publicity and create a sense of urgency for the purpose of growing a budget or expanding influence? Or was the person blinded by fear or ideology?

Otherwise, how could intelligent, powerful people with extensive access to the best information available fail to perceive obvious mistakes in making major public policy decisions? Can it be that sometimes intelligent people just do stupid things? Maybe.

I had a long conversation a few weeks ago with a friend who has extensive experience in managing security for the U.S. government. He suggested that one reason poor decisions get made at the highest levels of government is that many heads of departments and agencies go about their jobs in fear of making mistakes that could have major consequences for national security. This situation has become more pronounced since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The implication is that some of our government leaders have become so concerned about getting things wrong that this has made them overly tentative and unable to fully trust their own knowledge, judgment, and instincts.

This tentativeness can be exacerbated whenever an official’s competence is publicly called into question, which often happens when governments are summoned to testify before a Congressional committee about a policy initiative gone wrong or an inadequate response to a threat or an emergency. Take, for example, Tom Frieden, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Oct. 16, 2014 when he was grilled by members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about his agency’s handling of the spread of Ebola virus infections in Texas earlier that year.1 2 3

You get a sense of the tone of that hearing from Representative Fred Upton’s (R-Michigan) prepared statement:

People are scared. We need all hands on deck. We need a strategy and we need to protect the American people, first and foremost. It’s not a drill. People’s lives are at stake and the response so far has been unacceptable. As Chairman of this committee, I want to assure the witnesses that we stand ready to support you in any way to keep Americans safe, but we’re going to hold your feet to the fire on getting the job done, and getting it done right. Both the U.S. and the global health community have so far failed to put in place an effective strategy fast enough to combat the current outbreak.1

Rep. Upton continued:

The CDC admitted more could’ve been done in Texas. Two health care workers have become infected with Ebola even as nurses and other medical personnel suggest that protocols are being developed on the fly. And none of us can understand how a nurse who treated an Ebola infected patient and who herself had developed a fever was permitted to board a commercial airline and fly across the country. It’s no wonder that the public’s confidence is shaken. Over a month ago, before Ebola reached our shores, we wrote HHS Secretary Burwell seeking details for the preparedness and response plans here at home and abroad. And it’s clear whatever plan was in place was insufficient.1

The statement is peppered with suggestions that Dr. Frieden didn’t do his job the way he should have done it. Comments like “the response so far has been unacceptable” and “we’re going to hold your feet to the fire on getting the job done, and getting it done right.” There’s “Both the U.S. and global health community have so far failed to put in place an effective strategy fast enough to combat the current outbreak,” and “The CDC admitted more could’ve been done in Texas,” and “It’s no wonder that the public’s confidence is shaken.” Finally… “And it’s clear whatever plan was in place was insufficient.”

That was one heck of a damning indictment of Dr. Frieden and the CDC. Later, there were also a few tense and awkward exchanges, notably with Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana). It went like this:

Scalise: One of the biggest concerns I get from the hospitals in my district that I’ve talked to, and I’ve talked to a number of hospital officials, medical officials, professionals in my district. They’re concerned that they haven’t had consistent protocols. There have been at least four just in the last few weeks where the protocols keep changing. Now, with the nurse, the first nurse that was infected, I believe you personally said that the protocols were breached originally. Have you backed away from that?

Frieden: We’re looking at what might have resulted…

Scalise: You said the protocols were breached. Were the protocols breached with the first nurse that was infected?

Frieden: Our…

Scalise: Yes or no.

Frieden: Our review of the records suggest that in the first few days…

Scalise: If you didn’t know for a fact you shouldn’t have said it. Do you withdraw that statement or do you still stand by the statement that protocols were breached by the first nurse?

Frieden: There was a definite exposure that resulted…

Scalise: Were protocols breached, yes or no?1

Rep. Scalise was clearly starting to get under Dr. Frieden’s skin. It must have been difficult for Dr. Frieden to be so closely cross-examined by a congressman. It’s almost never pleasant for a government official to testify at a congressional hearing investigating potential errors of judgment made by government agencies.

You have to wonder how that sort of experience might affect a person in Dr. Frieden’s position—how it might influence his decision-making going forward. Does he grow more conscious of covering his back to ensure he never leaves himself exposed to criticism again?

And if so, to what degree does that desire for securing an insurance policy manifest itself in the public policies he and the CDC promote? For instance, with regard to the Zika virus,4 5 6 or the more recent proposed rulemaking to allow the CDC to “authorize the quarantine, isolation, or conditional release of an individual traveling interstate” if the agency “reasonably believes” that that “individual is infected with a communicable disease in a qualifying stage”?7

Whether errors in judgment in public policy and lawmaking are made by government officials because of ignorance, ideology, fear or simply a desire to secure more money or power for an agency, there are serious consequences for the people impacted by those errors in judgment. That is why it is so important for all of us to actively participate in the public policy and law making process whenever we can to hold the executive and legislative branches of government responsible for their actions.


1 Congress Hammers CDC on Ebola: Demands Answers / Flight Bans Now. YouTube.com Oct. 16, 2014 (published by Scott Anthony).
Diamond J, Walsh D. U.S. health officials grilled on Ebola at congressional hearing. CNN Oct. 16, 2014.
Tavernise S. Congress Scrutinizes Handling of Ebola Cases in Texas. The New York Times Oct. 16, 2014.
4 Cáceres M. Dr. Frieden’s Zika Letter: A False Alarm? The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 6, 2016.
5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Concludes Zika Causes Microcephaly and Other Birth Defects. CDC.gov Apr. 13, 2016.
6 Frieden T. CDC Chief: Zika is coming. To fully protect Americans we must have the funds we need. Fox News Apr. 1, 2016.
7 Control of Communicable Diseases—A Proposed Rule by the Health and Human Services Department on 08/15/2016. Federal Register Aug. 15, 2016.

9 Responses to When Public Officials are More Concerned About Getting Things Wrong Than Getting Things Right

  1. David Weiner Reply

    September 7, 2016 at 11:13 am

    The bureaucrats should be held responsible for their mistakes and we should do what we can to see that they are held accountable.

    However, it is the nature of government bureaucracy to protect itself and to find ways to grow. It is typically not in their interest to do a good job from the public’s point of view. What would the CDC actually be doing, if it were really looking out for us? Not nearly as much as it is doing today.

    That is why ultimately the goal ought to be ending the CDC and the other bureaucracies that pretend to look out for the public’s interest.

    Far better for their responsibilities to be undertaken by competing private firms. If one of these firms performs poorly, its reputation will suffer and it will go out of business … unlikely the government agencies which are never really held accountable in any meaningful way, since they are financed coercively (via taxation), not voluntarily by people who actually value their services.

    • TeeJae Reply

      September 9, 2016 at 8:24 am

      I agree the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting people and planet have become so corrupted as to now be protecting industry. However, as long as they’re funded by tax dollars, at least they’re still (somewhat) accountable to the public. That wouldn’t be the case if they were privatized. The main goal of a private company is to make money… more often than not at the expense of people and planet. This would make these organizations even more corrupt and dangerous.

      • David Weiner Reply

        September 12, 2016 at 11:39 am

        I don’t see how you can say that the CDC is, in any way, accountable. They brazenly commit fraud and Congress can’t even call a hearing to investigate. Have heads rolled, budgets been cut? On the contrary, they are getting new funds to fight the Zika scam.

        With private certifying firms, such as Consumers Union or Underwriter’s Laboratories, yes they may be looking to make money, but they can only do so if they are doing a proper job of evaluating products. If they do a crappy job, then their reputation goes kaput, and they go out of business. Which is a lot more than you can say for a government agency which does terrible work, year in and year out.

  2. Walter Reply

    September 7, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a labor union that represents pediatricians. Their only focus is to keep pediatricians employed—and well fed. Your child is a means to that end. Nothing more—no matter what they proclaim.

    Vaccines were never about public health. They were always about the money. And now, with rampant vaccine fraud finally being exposed, it’s about protecting the guilty parties from prosecution.

    Imagine if you had a multi-billion dollar (criminal) enterprise built on lies. Wouldn’t you fight to the death to prevent those lies from being made public?

    It’s no accident that Forbes, Fortune and others have had recent advertorials (ads made to look like news articles) published to quell the anti-vaccine movement. These publications make a lot of money selling ad space to drug companies. (70% of all ads are drug ads. Watch TV much? Count them.) Remember—these articles are meant to fool people into thinking they’re the product of serious investigative journalism, but they’re really ads, paid for by the drug companies.

    But I don’t mind the anti anti-vaccine articles. Because the longer the debate goes on, the brighter the light shines on the corrupt CDC, FDA and pharmaceutical industry.

    Rats, roaches and the medical mafia hate being exposed to light.

  3. Linda Mclean Reply

    September 8, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Federal overstep denying civil liberties. CDC volume 81 issue 157 google it comment and protest. CDC giving itself unprecedented power showing up at airport bus stop or train is an agreement to medical checkpoint, ” you cannot walk away” they can hold you in custody for a suspected ” pre communicable disease state” they can examine treat vaccinate hold citizens indefinitely in custody. May conditionally release with electronic monitoring. This is a game changer! Please react and share.

  4. Keith Howe, D.C. Reply

    September 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    My name is Keith Howe and I have been a doctor of chiropractic for 27 years. I am also a cofounder of Healthy Alternatives to Pesticides. I have been researching the Zika virus since they began claiming it caused microcephaly. This is not true. The towns in Brazil that have high numbers of this birth defect are using pesticides banned in many countries.

    The military is putting larvicides (BTI) into the rain water drinking barrels, which is also falsely claimed to be safe. They are fogging their neighborhoods and even mixing deadly pesticides known to cause birth defects into the house paint, thus poisoning entire families.

    The CDC has a long history of fraud. They use fear to generate grant money from the government and are poisoning hundreds of millions of people around the world with these pesticides which are useless for controlling mosquitoes. Tom Frieden is currently lying to Congress to extort 1.8 billion dollars from taxpayers by FRAUD. This will result in deadly pesticides being sprayed on billions of peoples worldwide, which constitutes a crime against humanity and perhaps genocide. He should get a long prison sentence for these serious crimes, along with any Congress persons who aid and abet his lies. Congress members receives bribe money from these pesticide and vaccine corporations to promote these lies and sell their deadly products. Frieden admitted under Public Records request that he has no valid scientific research to associate Zika virus with microcephaly.

    Human experimentation on the public without informed consent, open air testing on human subjects with biological and biochemical agents by the Pentagon and Department of Defense, as authorized by the United States Congress in HR1119, Section 1078, which violates the Nuremberg Code! (The full text of this bill (1,099 pages) may be viewed at: commdocs.house.gov/reports/105/h1119.pdf (go to pages 703 through 706 of document for section 1078, Human Experimentation).This bill cannot make such actions legal as it violates the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and International law.

    I wrote the following article and posted it on our website detailing some of Tom Frieden’s criminal actions. Please investigate and prosecute these corrupt betrayor of public trust.

    Stop the Zika Fraud http://www.healthyalternativestopesticides.com/uncategorized/exposing-the-zika-fraud/

    Our website has a section on scientific articles regarding mosquito abatement and pesticides. Pesticides are the LEAST effective method of mosquito control and there is no need for a vaccine! If you need any more information feel free to contact me at tahac408@yahoo.com

    If you need any more facts regarding this massive fraud by Frieden and the corrupt CDC I will be happy to provide it.

  5. Wrusssr Reply

    September 9, 2016 at 1:48 am

    How Can Public Officials Be More Concerned About Getting Things Wrong Than Getting Things Right?

    Very simple. Public officials under Washington’s control — take the CDC, for example — have no concern about your concerns. Haven’t had for decades. They’re concerned about the tasks their money masters like BigPharma have set forth for them. One of these tasks is to deny any dangers about vaccines — the MMR in particular — or that they cause Autism. When their own studies proved that MMR did cause Autism, the CDC authors got together in a room, trash-canned their findings, reworked the data and, WALLAH! MMR was pure as the driven snow and good to go.


    Your concern for your family and yourself is not their concern.

    Did you know there’s 300 “new” vaccines coming down the pipeline “. . . to help humanity? Did you know the medical industry combined with BigPharma’s products kill approximately 225,000 people a year in the U.S.? Dr. Barbara Starfield pointed this out in paper she published in 2000 in the AMA Journal.

    AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Barbara Starfield: Medically Caused Death in America

    by Jon Rappoport

    December 9, 2009


    Look to you and yours. Because neither Washington nor the people charged with representing and/or administering this Republic will.

  6. Dr. Brandon Reply

    September 9, 2016 at 8:59 am

    The FDA works for Big Pharma and Agribusiness. The CDC works for vaccine makers. Congress is allowing this. My question to a presidential candidate is “Will you work to outlaw lobbyists in Washington?”

  7. Paul Ingraham Reply

    September 9, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    In response to Walter’s comment. You are right on about the corrupt Pharma industry and their coverup of adverse vaccine reactions in children. However, the same thing is happening with your pets. Vets are pushing vaccines on owners when there is proof that no vaccines provides better results. A dog getting the Parvo shot as a puppy is more likely to die of Parvo as an adult dog if exposed to Parvo (don’t believe that the Parvo shot prevents Parvo….it doesn’t). Dogs that aren’t vaccinated can be cured of this awful disease easier if they haven’t ever gotten the vaccine and their immune system is healthy. Truth is the Vaccine industry hasn’t done the proper tests and the governmental bodies haven’t either and yet it’s “Common knowledge” that pets should be vaccinated. It’s a big money grab and Vets are in on the game because they make a bunch of money off stabbing dogs and cats. There’s also big money in pushing kibble as the proper diet for dogs. Vets do it, big pet food companies do it. Fact is that dogs are meat eaters, not carbohydrate eaters so if that kibble is all they get then their immune system is not healthy and they can actually die from vaccinations either right away or after dose 2 through 10.

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