Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Big Brownies, Little Brownies

I assume you have all already caught first round of the George Deutsch saga in the weekend news:

24-year-old Deustch became newsworthy for 3 reasons: he worked in PR at NASA, he was a Bush appointee there, and according to The Holmes Report, Deutsch sent out a memo to scientists preparing a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students that required the word "theory" be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The money quote:
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator…. This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA."
But the story gets better.

I just learned via Just a Bump in the Beltway that young master Deutsch has resigned...wait for it, wait for it..."on the same day that officials at Texas A&M University confirmed that he did not graduate from there, as his résumé on file at the agency asserted."

According to the New York Times, while Mr. Deutch's résumé claim to a "Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Class of 2003" was fraudelent, "no one has disputed" the portions that specify Deutsch "was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee."

Hey! You all know this verse, too, so sing along:
Lying on resumes! Political hacks with no qualifications! Incompetent cronies! Cronyism, corruption, and incompetence!
I have to begin my next comment by pointing out the framework within which I read these news stories. I worked for many years as a technical and executive search recruiter (i.e., a "headhunter"). It was imperative that, before recommending a job candidate to one of my clients, I had thoroughly checked references and verified the veracity of the resume.

Now, I realize that a royal presidential appointment complicates matters, but I am curious how it could come about that NASA would hire someone without performing a proper background check. I'm not pointing fingers, I am asking, and if anyone is familiar with how hiring procedures and background checks work at NASA or other federal agencies, I would appreciate any light you can shed on the matter.

Back to the larger issue of Bush's political appointees. The story of an unqualified political hack appointed as a reward for campaign services reminds me instantly of Ellen Sauerbrey. In case you missed it, on January 4, the same day the New York Times editorialized that Bush should take advantage of the recess to rethink his "lamentable choice" and instead "find someone with solid credentials," the White House announced that Bush had bypassed the Senate and installed Sauerbrey on his own by using a recess appointment. These people have no sense of irony.

Once you add in the element of lying on a resume, though, the story is even more reminiscent of Michael "Brownie" Brown, whom Bush appointed to FEMA after Brown was forced to resign as a Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. Brown headed FEMA's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, then resigned in disgrace on September 9, after which Brown's employment with FEMA was continued on a contract basis, at a rate of $148,000 per year, by fellow Bush-appointee Michael Chertoff.

If George Deutsch is upset about anything, it may be that he wasn't promoted and given a raise.

I confess that faced with the outright absurdity of Bush's political appointments, I find it hard to discuss them in a measured, mature manner. I likewise confess that I find it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between news and satire. I keep hoping P.T. Barnum will announce the past five years have all been a big hoax, and we can now go back to our familiar, dependable, reality-based reality.

But, making a great effort, I can admit that I feel sorry for the likes of Deutsch, Sauerbrey, and Brown. Not sorry in a schaudenfreude, "I'm so sorry" sort of way, but genuinely compassionate. When I worked as a recruiter, I saw first hand how absolutely miserable people were placed in jobs where they were over their heads. Drowning in a job that's too big affects not only those people, their departments, and their organizations, but also their families, their personal relationships, and by extention trickles out into their communities. I can not imagine George Deutsch, Ellen Sauerbrey, Michael Brown, or for that matter George Bush, to be happy people.

The larger problem of course is that their actions in these jobs for which they are not qualified affect so many other people--censoring and harrassing scientists, playing politics with AIDS and family-planning programs, leaving people to die in the Gulf during the hurricane(s).

It pains me that Bush thinks so little of his subjects that he would appoint political hacks to important positions regardless of the damage that they may do to the country. Even knowing that the Bush family refers to American people as Fodder Units, even knowing that Republicans operate government as a profit center, and even knowing that Bush makes more money from creating disasters than from preventing them, at an emotional level, this wilful negligence and abuse America, of the American people, of American knowledge and institutions makes no sense to me at all at. I wonder sometimes if people don't find it more comfortable to write-off George Bush as incompetent because the idea of an unqualified, bungling president is so much less frightening than the reality that Bush does all of theses things on purpose.

The real story behind the story of George Deutsch's unglorious exploits at NASA is that he is the rule, not the exception. Not an abberation. Not a quirky little story. The story of George Deutsch is representative of how George Bush's America works, and fails to work.

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