“Nobody’s madder than me,” Barack Obama told the nation yesterday, “about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should.” But is he? In the same speech, he extolled the system that hardly anyone can access, while failing to even suggest that the President should hold people accountable for the rank incompetence that produced the debacle. Three weeks into the fiasco, the only accountability being exercised is coming from Congress, where HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has finally agreed to testify after first claiming she had no time to talk with Congress about the massive failure produced by her agency after a 42-month head start.
My column at The Week advises Obama to start demonstrating actual anger by canning the people responsible for this $400 million disaster, starting with Sebelius:
Obama insisted, “Nobody’s madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should.” Getting angry would be a good start. However, the only anger Obama flashed at all in his speech was aimed at critics pointing out the failures, and not the people who were responsible for the system’s creation. This website cost the American people more than $400 million, according to the Times, and yet not once in Obama’s speech did he say he would impose accountability for the failure. In fact, the word “accountable” never appears in his speech, despite the nine-figure price tag and the 42 months HHS had to get this right.
The president did promise a “tech surge” to find and eliminate the problems in the website, including the transmission of bad data to insurers. He reassured Americans that “America’s top private-sector tech companies” had offered their help to resolve the problem, noting that they “have seen things like this happen before.” That’s debatable, especially on the scale and scope of this failure, but it’s at least true that private-sector firms occasionally have to deal with failing projects. However, they usually solve the problem by imposing substantial penalties for those responsible for the failure, such as demotions and terminations, and replace them with more competent personnel to rescue the projects. They also usually don’t start off by blaming the critics for the problem and then trying to get consumers to believe that everything is hunky-dory.
The scope of this failure demands changes at HHS — at least if Obama wants Americans to have trust in this system. Kathleen Sebelius’ top priority since March 2010 was preparing for the rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges, and yet they have all but collapsed, to the point that two successive weekends of patches can’t fix the issues. (The last patch was to add a button explaining how to use the call center rather than the website, but the call center can’t properly handle the requests, either.) HHS’s subsidiary agency Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its administrator Marilyn Tavenner were responsible for developing and launching Healthcare.gov, but Obama didn’t mention either agency or its top executives in his speech. If Obama is “madder” than anyone, who is he mad at?
Here’s a better question. Why should Americans believe that the broken system will be fixed within weeks by the same people who had control of this project for the last three-plus years and had $400 million at their disposal? Asking people to trust in the failed management team that delivered the current fiasco would be like asking them to believe that they can keep their plan if they like their plan. It’s time to clean house, or better yet, admit defeat and pursue other means of reforming the health-insurance industry — like, say, turning it back over to the same private sector that Obama had to call this week for a rescue of his Big Government project failure.
I’m hardly alone in wondering why heads aren’t already rolling in the executive branch. Bloomberg’s editors also scoff at Obama’s expression of impotent and largely undetectable anger, and especially at Obama’s pep rally yesterday: