Last fall Dr. Timothy Persons testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the need to improve biosafety protocols at laboratories that handle highly dangerous diseases such as Ebola, Zika, and Anthrax. And afterward, Persons, a member of Christ Reformed Presbyterian Church Church in Laurel, Maryland, collaborated with multiple government agencies to improve safety standards for those research labs.
Persons is the chief scientist at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan federal agency that improves the government through audit-based recommendations and advising policymakers as they craft legislation. Persons leads research studies focusing on science and technology and advises GAO’s various mission teams when their work involves such matters, including weapons systems, environmental issues, and advanced biomedical research. He frequently recommends changes to help the federal government run more effectively.
But Persons ultimately sees his work at the Government Accountability Office as an opportunity to reform brokenness in the government, he humbly listens, and faithfully works. He believes that humility, an open mind, and a focus on problem-solving rather than criticizing go a long way toward earning credibility with experts in other areas. And credibility allows Persons and his team to help other agencies understand how they suffer from their own bad processes or programs.
For someone who sees firsthand many problems with the federal government, Persons’ lack of cynicism seems surprising. But he is unsympathetic toward those who rail against the government without helping to correct it.
“I challenge citizens to stay engaged, volunteer, vote, and serve,” he said. “It is not enough to simply identify our problems and not work to address them.”
Persons’ grace, humility, and charity stem from his Christian calling to bring order to brokenness. He said the church is called to be both Reformed and reforming, an idea Persons tries to apply through his research and recommendations.
He draws encouragement from biblical men such as Joseph and Daniel who effected tremendous change for the greater good, even while serving broken governments.
It is gratifying for Persons to see the cause-and-effect relationships between his work and government improvement. The GAO has a strong track record of having its recommendations adopted and implemented.
These moments remind Persons that, by God’s grace, imperfect people can work together to solve problems for the greater good.