A failure of leadership, a ducking of responsibility, or Don’t #LetToddWork

From The Wall Street Journal:

White House Tech Team Missed Health-Site Alert
Obama ‘SWAT’ Outfit Failed to Act After Federal Exchange Landed on the High-Risk List
By Gautham Nagesh | Updated Nov. 12, 2013 10:20 p.m. ET

Even before he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama knew the government had problems with technology. So he introduced the concept of a White House “SWAT team,” designed to swoop in and rescue big projects before they became disasters.

But neither the SWAT team nor other measures Mr. Obama introduced to overhaul government technology prevented the HealthCare.gov site from becoming a high-profile government technology failure. White House technology executives failed to recognize the severity of the problems and lacked the authority to fix them, say people involved in the process. One particular missed signal: In March, a federal website flagged the project as high-risk, but that didn’t trigger any special intervention.

HealthCare.gov, which serves consumers in 36 states who can’t get coverage through their employer or a government program, has been plagued by problems since it opened Oct. 1. As of last week, fewer than 50,000 people enrolled in private health-insurance programs through the site, people familiar with the data say.

Members of Congress are zeroing in on White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, whose position was created by Mr. Obama. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), the House oversight committee chairman, subpoenaed Mr. Park to testify at a Wednesday hearing, and the White House said late Tuesday that Mr. Park would comply.

More at the link.

Now, according to CBS News, “President Obama wanted to go in himself and fix glitches that have plagued HealthCare.gov since its rollout last month, he told a crowd Friday at the Port of New Orleans, ‘but,’ he added, ‘I don’t write code.'”  Your Editor would add that we shouldn’t expect the President to be able to write code; that’s not his job.  His job is to propose policy to the Congress, and implement that policy once the Congress authorizes it; his job is to get things done by organizing and leading the executive branch.

And that’s where he failed: when it comes to what the President has pushed as his most important goal, he either:

  1. Was informed of the problems early, and took no action to get them solved;
  2. Was not informed of the problems, and failed to ask questions to get information about the status of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act rollout; or
  3. Asked about the status of the PP&ACA roll out, and was lied to by his subordinates.

If it was number 3, heads should roll, starting with White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park1 and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; if it was either of the first two, the President is directly to blame. But, in all three cases, the President is responsible.

There is a rather amusing story about Mr Park on The Atlantic:

House Subpoenas Todd Park, Marks Him as Next Healthcare.gov Scapegoat
By Arit John | November 11, 2013

“Let Todd Work” Twitter campaign image. This is an image file, and not the link to the Let Todd Work campaign. Click image to enlarge.

Everyone seems to agree that someone should get fired over the Obamacare launch, though no one can confidently say who deserves a pink slip. On Wednesday, the House oversight committee will grill its newest candidate: Todd Park, the White House’s Chief Technology Officer. The oversight committee really, really wants to talk to Park, so much so that, last Friday, they sent him an invite to a hearing this Wednesday with a subpoena attached. Park’s supporters argue that he’s kind of busy right now, what with Healthcare.gov still being a mess.

Democrats on the Oversight committee wrote to Issa on Monday, asking him to withdraw his “unnecessary and misguided” subpoena. Issa might give in to letters that call his actions unnecessary and misguided, but he’s more likely to argue that, if Park has time to chat with the New York Times and USA Today, then why did he ditch the last two hearings?

Maybe because it’s sure to be an extremely unpleasant experience. This subpoena puts him among the ranks of other high-ranking officials involved in the project and blamed for its failed launch. First there was Kathleen Sebelius, who managed to take a disastrous turn on The Daily Show before attending two hearings. Like Park, Sebelius was criticized for dodging the committee. Henry Chao, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Deputy Chief Information Officer, was briefly in the spotlight when contractors blamed him for the delay of the website’s window shopping tool. Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Chief Information Officer Tony Trenckle announced he was stepping down, or “retiring,” making him the first casualty of the website.

Depending on how you look at it then, the “Let Todd Work” campaign is either an effort to keep him working on the website or keep him employed. The campaign was launched by two former White House innovation fellows, Clay Johnson and Adam Becker, and former White House art director Michael Aleo to get Congress to, well, let Park work on the website. “Instead of continuing to fix Healthcare.gov (a mess he did not make), Mr. Park has to spend his hours preparing for his testimony,” the site reads. Johnson echoed that point during an interview with CNN. “What on Earth did he have to do with it in the first place? He’s trying to fix it, and to my knowledge trying to clean up somebody else’s mess isn’t worthy of a subpoena,” he said.

More at the link. Mr Park might wind up being the scapegoat, but while the Let Todd Work website claims that this is a mess he did not create, it is also one for which he accepted responsibility when he was promoted to his job in the White House, in March of 2012. Someone has to be held responsible, and if — unfortunately — the President won’t resign and can’t be fired for this failure, the consequences have to fall upon his minions. Of course, The First Street Journal has noted previously that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act wasn’t really meant to succeed, but simply to establish the principle that the federal government is the ultimate guarantor of the individual’s health care coverage. We said, half a year ago:

When Senator Barack Hussein Obama (D-IL) was running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, he eschewed the single-payer option,2 as did all of the other major Democratic candidates; only the minor candidates Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OK) and former Senator Mike Gravel (D-AK) based their campaigns on single-payer plans, and they got nowhere during the primaries. Single-payer is way, way, way too much like socialism for most thinking Americans. The Democrats knew that they could not get single-payer passed.

Rather, it was important to get something passed, because they wanted to establish the principle that the federal government was the ultimate guarantor of the individual’s health care coverage. Once that point was established, they believed backtracking from it would not be possible.

And so we wound up with the “we have to pass it so we can find out what’s in it” Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Once it fails, and it will fail — we just don’t know when yet — the Democrats will come back and say, “See, we tried to do it he ‘conservative’ way, using the free market and private insurance industry and existing system, and it just didn’t work; single-payer is the only option we have left.” The option of a return to the pre-Obaminablecare act system, in which the government is not responsible for people’s health care, will not be on the table.

This was their goal all along! The Democrats lied to us, but they are politicians, so that should have been obvious — and, in fact, was obvious — to anyone who thought about it.

The only place we got it wrong was in guessing how long it would take for the PP&ACA to fail; your Editor had thought that it would take a couple of years before it failed completely, but initial signs are that that estimate might have been too generous. That might make Mr Park3 a sacrificial lamb from the start, because there’s really no way he could have succeeded, but I will admit that I had not guessed that the Administration would foul up this badly on just the website portion; I was expecting the system failure to be on the cockamamie economics of the whole plan.
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  1. I was amused by Mr Park’s Wikipedia biography, and the almost sycophantic way it was written, until I saw this notice on it: This biographical article is written like a résumé. Please help improve it by revising it to be neutral and encyclopedic. (October 2013)
  2. Mr Obama said that if he was designing the system from scratch, he’d design single-payer.
  3. Mr Park is of Korean descent; ‘twon’t be long before that we see complaints that attempts to hold Mr Park responsible are based on racism.

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