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Letter From the Editor: Jobs

Opinion

I’m not much for going to movie theaters anymore.

For the movies that I might want to see, the theaters are either depressingly empty or so filled that I get stuck behind somebody with a big head who is noisily eating popcorn and sucking on a Bloomberg-size soda.

So I did not see “Jobs” with Ashton Kutcher, released last summer, until it showed up in December on a United Airlines playlist. It was low-budget movie and left me disappointed about how it handled the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates relationship. It generally scratches across the surface of Jobs’ life, but it did get me thinking.

The history of Jobs at Apple is one of rapid technological change. The film makes it seem as if Jobs was the only one so driven, but he was a leader at a time when enterprise was driven by technological change, followed by competition to use technological changes to the maximum.

One might argue, and I guess I am, that the principle difference now between private enterprise and government is that the former, by its very nature, knows that dynamic change is the only path to survival today. Governments just continue without innovation.

We have all grown accustomed to how the private sector works. We know the “versions” of the Apple iPhone, and we might wait for the one we want to come out. We know these companies are always working on improvements or they risk getting left behind. No one wants to go the way of America Online.

But in government, change is almost impossible. Improvements are stopped before they are allowed to happen. At a time when Congress passes only about 60 bills, the K Street lobbyists are all billing their clients millions and billions not for what they’ve accomplished, but for what they’ve prevented.

One example of that is the poultry inspection system used by USDA since Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States. Most everybody has a piece of this one. The game played in Washington, D.C., is to beat up on USDA’s 15-year-old “pilot” program called the HACCP-based Inspection Model Project, or HIMP, like it’s a redheaded stepchild.

Then another year goes by with no change. Without change, there is no pathogen-based poultry inspection system, but rather one stuck in the 1950s.

That’s why you have to give credit to people inside government who keep trying to do the right thing. When Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, the former Under Secretary for Food Safety, left USDA in mid-December, I figured the evildoers who’ve prevented poultry inspection reform in the past had prevailed again.

So when Brian Ronholm, now the acting Under Secretary for Food Safety, popped up over New Year’s with a long interview in one of the trade journals, again laying out the argument for reform of poultry inspections, it was a hopeful sign. It might mean that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack plans to accomplish poultry reform before his watch ends.

But until we make it easier for government to implement change, it is never going to be able to perform like the private sector. We need to make it easier, far easier, for USDA to implement the next reform.

The Secretary of Agriculture, the Under Secretary for Food Safety, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator should have all the flexibility in the world for establishing the inspection regimes they want their employees to implement. We hold the top officials responsible for food safety, and we should give them the tools they need to succeed.

All other considerations are secondary to food safety.

That’s what I did like about the Jobs movie. He had goals that were above all other considerations. Steve Jobs told the idiots to shut up, just before he fired them.

© Food Safety News
  • doc raymond

    Dan, I think this short, concise editor’s opinion piece is one of the best you have written. Of course I am biased, but I love your description of how it really is in DC. And thanks for giving Brian credit for stepping up with Dr. Hagen’s leaving USDA. Great insight.

  • hu_sna

    it was a very entertaining opinion indeed :)