When The Chief Executive Alone Makes The Pick

When The Chief Executive Alone Makes The Pick


Leonard Zwelling

The clock is ticking down until Monday when Donald Trump will name his choice to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

I am sure that Mr. Trump is getting all kinds of advice, mostly from his allies on the right, as to whom he should choose to fill the shoes of the man who has been the swing vote on the Court for thirty years. But in the end, it’s Mr. Trump’s call and his alone. Once it’s made, the fighting can start, but until then, only his opinion really counts.

The same is true for all of the major appointments at MD Anderson. Even if there are Search Committees and Advisory Committees to the president of Anderson, in the end, Dr. Pisters makes the call. And this is as it should be in both cases. The chief executive has the right and privilege to name the major personages in the government or organization he leads. The performance of the organization will determine the success or failure of any administration. It is fitting that the people in key positions owe those positions to the initial tapping by the leader. Their performance will reflect back on the leader.

In the case of the Supreme Court justice, the process has recently undergone a change. In the past the minority party in the Senate could filibuster the process and thus it would take 60 votes to invoke cloture and unstick the blockade. That is gone. Now all the Republicans need is 50 votes and they win the day and the named justice can be sworn in. There will be hearings and the Democrats will undoubtedly try to rough up any of the seven or so potential nominees whose names have been bantered about so far. They will try to get the nominee to commit to a course of action once on the bench that would anger 50 Senators. It’s not likely to work. The nominee, man or woman, will avoid taking a firm stance on any hypothetical thrown at him or her in order to be confirmed and get to work. I think that the three Democratic Senators from Red States like Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia, may well side with the Republicans. So even if Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski vote against the nominee, the GOP will have the numbers. My guess is that this is over. Who Trump names will likely assume the bench by October.

Dr. Pisters has named a lot of inside talent to the big positions in his administration. The word on the street is that this will also be the case with the Chief Academic and Chief Medical Officers, leaving only the Chief Scientific Officer as a potential vacancy to be filled by an outsider. This is barring any changes at the division or department leadership levels.

Again, if this is what Dr. Pisters wishes, this is as it should be. I had hoped there might be an influx of new talent in the upper reaches of MD Anderson’s org chart, but I guess not.

The wisdom of this strategy will be tested by the complexity of health care in the twenty-first century, the financial challenges of running an academic center, and the competition for patients and grant dollars.

Mr. Trump’s choice is likely to be with us for thirty or more years. This is not likely for the choices of Dr. Pisters, given the recent history of the rotating talent in many of these higher academic and administrative positions.

Regardless, the boss has the right and the duty to make his or her picks. The rest of us get to decide the insight demonstrated by those picks. So do Houston, the United States, and the world in which MD Anderson operates.

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