On the left: Brian Harrison. On the right: a labradoodle.
On the left: Brian Harrison. On the right: a labradoodle.
Image: HHS.gov/Associated Press

I have held many jobs in my life that I was likely not qualified for—in high school, I was the editor of the sports section of our newspaper, despite only a passing understanding of the rules of sport; fresh out of college, I was a public school teacher, a job I should have never had, given my limited understanding of how to teach first graders to read and write.

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All that to say, experience absolutely matters, a lesson that seems to have been lost in the Trump administration, even in the midst of a global pandemic. According to a Reuters report, in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appointed Brian Harrison, one of his most trusted aides and his chief of staff, to lead HHS’s “day-to-day response” to the coronavirus. Harrison, it turns out, has no experience in public health. What he does have experience doing is breeding labradoodles, which he did for several years before joining HHS in early 2018.

More, from Reuters:

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.

The company sells Australian Labradoodles, a breed that is a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle. He sold it in April 2018, his financial disclosure form said. HHS emailed Reuters that the sales price was $225,000.

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In January, Azar tapped Harrison to coordinate HHS’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. “Everyone had to report up through him,” an HHS official told Reuters.

Let’s check out how that turned out. Per Reuters:

One questionable decision, three sources say, came that month, after the White House announced it was convening a coronavirus task force. The HHS role was to muster resources from key public health agencies: the CDC, FDA, National Institutes of Health, Office of Global Affairs and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

Harrison decided, the sources say, to exclude FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn from the task force. “He said he didn’t need to be included,” said one official with knowledge of the matter.

Reassuring!

Hiring and promoting extremely unqualified people to important positions is a hallmark of the Trump administration, which prizes loyalty and political ideology above basic competence. Politico recently reported that the Presidential Personnel Office, which as Politico states “places political appointees into jobs across the administration,” has hired four college seniors to fill fairly high-level positions, from the PPO’s external relations director to the Commerce Department’s deputy White House liaison. Meanwhile, actually qualified and experienced officials are being pushed out of their jobs for insufficiently performing devotion to Donald Trump. The latest addition to this long list is Rick Bright, the former head of the agency tasked with developing a coronavirus vaccine, who was demoted after he pushed back against Trump’s insistence to fund studies into hydroxychloroquine.

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Everything is going great!

Senior reporter, Jezebel

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