I’m A Deep State Graduate

I’m A Deep State Graduate


Leonard Zwelling


I was a member of the Deep State for many years.

First as an Associate Vice President (1995-2000), then as a Vice President (2000-2007), I served two presidents and a number of administrations at MD Anderson as a member of the bureaucracy. That’s right. I am willingly admitting that I was an administrator, that hated group of functionaries who push paper and write regulations that make the lives of faculty and staff alike a living hell. Not only was this my job, I liked it. Let me explain and then try to link what I did to what Frank Bruni lauds in The New York Times in the attached article from December 3.

In any large organization, there are employees who do the work that makes the money, (at Anderson that would be clinicians, researchers and teachers), those who support those people (nurses, research nurses, data managers, technicians and administrative assistants), and finally those who make policy and enforce the rules that govern the behavior of any regulated business (oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, clinical research, or animal research). Those rules may be external (from the federal government and granting agencies) or internal (from the president). That’s how the world of business is organized. Those in that third category in the federal government are what Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have termed the Deep State. Trump and his minions view the Deep State as a barrier to their getting done what they wished to in their political agenda. And they are absolutely right. Thank goodness. The Deep State was all that was between the Trump Administration and reducing the federal government to rubble. I understand that many of Trump’s supporters want exactly that. However, the federal government includes the Pentagon, Homeland Security, HHS, the State Department, etc. The career service officers within these departments keep the United States within the guardrails of legality and prudence. Without the Deep State, there can be no order in the government and for that matter in the country and the world. Bureaucrats are necessary evils. I was once one of these necessary evils. Why necessary?

It is unfortunate but true that in any organization, those that make the money may not always follow the rules. If they get caught not following the rules, regulators (e.g., the FDA, the NIH, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare) may get very unhappy with the parent organization of these bad acting money earners. The regulators can close the whole place down. The job of the Deep State bureaucrats is to keep the money earners coloring between the lines and keep the federal regulators away. That was my job. I didn’t always do it well.

On more than a few occasions I had to explain (and try to get the feds to excuse) the behavior of some prominent MD Anderson money earners to fellow Deep State members at the federal level to try to avoid them from closing MD Anderson’s research down. This included incidents with the FDA, the Office of Human Research Protections that oversees all Institutional Review Boards, and the Office of Research Integrity at the NIH that oversees allegations of research misconduct. You get the idea. We Deep Staters had to stick together.

Of all the jobs I ever had, by far the most gratifying was the one that put me in service of the MD Anderson mission and the MD Anderson faculty by making me a member of the Deep State collaborating with members of the federal Deep State. It was dirty job, but someone had to do it. More than once I averted an institution wide shutdown by the federal government in response to some research mishap by a faculty member. I was the MD Anderson designated inmate with the federal government. In fact, I did enough blocking of individuals’ personal agendas that people got tired of me doing it. I got tired of me doing it and in 2004, I left clinical research oversight behind voluntarily. You can do Deep State stuff just so long.

I have no regrets about my Deep State service. It taught me a lot about clinical and animal research and even more about the behavior of high-functioning people in the throes of ethical challenges. It also taught me about a huge collection of devoted federal employees who were trying their best to keep the academic centers within those guardrails of regulatory compliance. Sometimes we were able to do that. Sometimes, not so much. It was a constant challenge and the high point of my academic career.

The one thing Deep State people know is that no one will thank you for the work. Or almost no one. Some of my bosses—Dave Hohn, Andy Von Eschenbach and Margaret Kripke—definitely did. Thank you all back.

2 thoughts on “I’m A Deep State Graduate”

    1. Leonard Zwelling

      Nope. The president of MD Anderson did not like me at all for the same reasons that Mr. Trump doesn’t like a lot of his bureaucrats.
      I got this right

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