Unlike the real world, where managers and employees are judged on results and held accountable for their performance, in Washington, D.C., loyalty and partisanship almost always come first. Accountability comes later, if it comes at all.
This happens in every administration, and President Obama’s is no different, as we’ve seen with the fatal mistakes made regarding the Fast & Furious gun program and in the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Democrats, claiming to see these as partisan witch hunts designed to hurt the administration politically, circled the wagons. Obama stood loyally by Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton.
Loyalty is generally a good thing, in politics, as in life. But Kathleen Sebelius and her agency’s rollout of Obamacare is different.
Sebelius’ department had 3½ years to prepare to implement the Affordable Care Act. No one ever suggested that commandeering one-sixth of the American economy would be an easy task. (Many Republicans suggested the opposite and were dismissed as killjoys for their efforts.) But after the debacle of the last two weeks, liberals and Democrats—not conservatives or Republicans—should be calling for Sebelius’s head.
The administration’s handling of the implementation of Obamacare over the past three years has been a slow-moving train wreck: a mixture of embarrassing delays, hard-to-justify waivers, and assorted bad news about the unintended consequences of the law. Some of this was Sebelius’s fault, some of it was not.
The crowning blunder came 10 days ago with the rollout of healthcare.gov website, the centerpiece of the administration’s effort to sign individuals up for coverage through the government-run health care exchanges that are at the heart of the legislation. To say this was vitally important to the overall success of the law is an understatement. It is the aspect of Obamacare that the president himself has said is utterly essential—and backed up those words by letting the federal government shut down rather that give in to Republican demands to gut it. Nonetheless, its premiere was a giant flop – and Kathleen Sebelius is responsible.
The government’s website apparently cost more than $500 million to build—and counting. This is more than LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Spotify, and yet it has been a disaster from the get-go, freezing, crashing, and locking people out.
Worse still, despite repeated warnings about the deficiency of the site, it apparently was not even taken out for a test drive before the administration launched the thing.
"It wasn't designed well, it wasn't implemented well, and it looks like nobody tested it," database programmer Luke Chung told CBS. “I would be ashamed and embarrassed if my organization delivered something like that.”
The website remains a mess to this day, and even though Sebelius has issued repeated assurances her team is working around the clock to get it fixed, serious damage has already been done. According to one estimate, just 51,000 people in the entire United States were able to complete applications on the site during the first week.
Obama himself was reduced to pleading with people not to give up on signing up. Sebelius, dispatched this week to do damage control on "The Daily Show," only made matters worse by stumbling through an interview with an exasperated Jon Stewart—a supporter of Obamacare—who couldn’t get a straight answer from the HHS secretary about why businesses received a one-year delay from being hit with penalties in the law but individuals did not.
When the Obama administration loses Jon Stewart, you know things are bad. But supporters of Obamacare have a right to be furious with Sebelius. Her agency’s bungling has put Obama’s signature achievement, and his legacy, at risk.
Republicans are fond of saying that government would work much better if it were run like a business. Any corporation that allowed a COO to mismanage a new product line as important to its image as the Affordable Care Act is to Obama's would be contemplating their severance package.
The fact that Republicans haven’t called for Sebelius’ scalp should tell Democrats all they need to know about how much conservatives think she is hurting Obamacare’s cause. If the president cares about rescuing his signature policy initiative, he should consider putting it under new management right away.