Donald Berwick and the lack of professionalism in American government

To no one’s surprise, Donald Berwick resigned this week. He’s been a bureaucratic dead man walking for almost a year, certainly since 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter opposing his confirmation. I’ve written about this before. I don’t have much to add to what I’ve said.

Like Peter Diamond and Elizabeth Warren, Berwick is a highly qualified professional deemed unacceptable to the president’s political adversaries in a remarkably partisan process. As described here, he is a leader of the health care quality improvement. His methodical research and practice have saved many thousands of lives. He is a visionary figure with a fingertip understanding of many organizational issues at stake in health reform. He’s also a doctor, who can say things that need to be said to other doctors about quality improvement, cost containment, and other matters.

Unlike some other Obama administration officials thwarted by the Senate confirmation process, Berwick is a technocratic figure who isn’t especially identified with partisan Democratic causes. One could easily imagine him serving in a Republican administration. His was an available scalp in the crusade against ObamaCare. I must add that Berwick was poorly served by the Obama administration and by some Senate Democrats, who let Republicans shoot too many wounded officials at too little political cost.

One can also imagine Democrats responding to his shabby  treatment by kneecapping figures such as Mark McLellan, Gail Wilensky, or Greg Mankiw in the next Republican administration. I hope they don’t do this. Collecting more scalps within the executive branch won’t advance any progressive cause or the cause of good government. It will just turn the wheel one more time in a broken and astonishingly unprofessional confirmation process that deters excellent people in both parties from serving.

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