Gold Star: Dr. Richard Besser
This week's "attaboy" goes to Dr. Richard Besser, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who stands as the best example to date of the capabilities and professionalism of the nation's career federal employees.
As we reported earlier this week, President Obama has filled only five of 20 nominated positions at the Department of Health and Human Services, including Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was confirmed earlier this week.
Ask any rank-and-file federal employee and they'll likely say that while an agency can operate without political appointees, they need appointed political leadership to clearly define the mission, settle disagreements, coordinate efforts with other agencies and deliver a clear message to the public.
But Besser has served as a voice of calm reassurance from the moment the federal government elevated his efforts. He made important network morning show appearances on Monday, confidently answering questions as Americans began the new work week. He has spoken at daily press briefings, handled dozens of other interviews and generally acted as the public face of an agency still without a permanent leader.
"In terms of the immediate response, we have plenty of career people in place that can step and do exactly what they should do in this situation," Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, said earlier this week. He credits the Obama administration for tapping Besser to temporarily lead CDC since he previously led the agency's terrorism preparedness and emergency response unit.
Despite his public role, Besser can only do so much in his current acting role.
"People in interim and temporary decisions can only make so many of them," said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "Building the team in the middle of an emergency is much more difficult than building a team in a time of calm," he said.
Hundreds of other senior executives and mid-level government officials like Besser continue to temporarily serve in leadership positions until political appointees win confirmation. The good doctor earns this week's Gold Star for proving once again that career folks can ably step in at a moments notice to serve a crucial public role.
Agree or disagree with this week's Gold Star winner? Sound off in the comments section below.
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