How to Work Like Edward McSweegan

Former NIH scientist is back in the headlines.

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Edward McSweegan is getting some attention, although it's been five years since he admitted publicly that he was paid $100,000 a year to do nothing at all while working at the National Institutes of Health. For the new wave of publicity, McSweegan can thank the hot-button issue of executive compensation and former Washington Mutual CEO Alan Fishman, who worked 18 days before the bank was taken over and netted millions for his toil. Everyone seems to want to know how people can get away with doing as little as possible and being paid as handsomely as possible.

For tips on that, see my interview with Stanley Bing, who advocates retiring while still working. You too can get paid to do less. (Most of us are, however, willing to work even harder to hang on to our jobs in the current market.)

Here's the transcript (courtesy of Factiva) from McSweegan's appearance on CBS's Osgood File in 2003:


THE OSGOOD FILE. Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio network.

Edward McSweegan, works at the National Institutes of Health. Well, perhaps work is too strong a word for what he does. Although his title is microbiologist, he actually doesn't do any microbiology or anything else for that matter.

Mr. EDWARD McSWEEGAN: There's nothing to do. There's nothing to pretend to do.

OSGOOD: He used to manage several research projects, but he was relieved of that responsibility some time ago.

Mr. McSWEEGAN: March 1996.

OSGOOD: And he hasn't been given anything else to do since. Pays good, though, he tells Sharyl Atkisson.

Ms. SHARYL ATKISSON: How much do you get paid to do nothing?

Mr. McSWEEGAN: About a 100,000 a year.

OSGOOD: The amazing story after this.


OSGOOD: Edward McSweegan must have done something that got one of his bosses or one of his boss' bosses upset—he's not quite sure which one or what it was—but instead of firing him, they simply haven't given him anything to do for seven years now.

Ms. ATKISSON: So what do you do all day when you go to the office?

Mr. McSWEEGAN: I've managed to publish a couple of books, some short-story fiction, a little bit of nonfiction writing.

OSGOOD: In fact, McSweegan has become quite a successful mystery writer. He also takes time off from not working.

Mr. McSWEEGAN: I wound up joining a health club near the office just sort of to break up the day.

OSGOOD: His NIH superiors have been giving him good job reviews.

Mr. McSWEEGAN: I guess I'm good at doing nothing.

Ms. ATKISSON: If I asked your boss what it is you do, what do you think she would say?

Mr. McSWEEGAN: I don't know but I'd love to hear the answer.

OSGOOD: Atkisson tried to talk to McSweegan's boss, but NIH declined. Maybe they'll fire him now for telling about it.

Mr. McSWEEGAN: Talking about this in public is sort of like playing Russian roulette. You pull the trigger and see what happens.

Ms. ATKISSON: What do you hope will happen?

Mr. McSWEEGAN: I don't even know what to hope.

OSGOOD: Incidentally, the NIH budget is $27 billion a year.

THE OSGOOD FILE. I'll see you on the television come Sunday morning on CBS. This is Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio network.


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