President Obama and His Gang That (Still) Isn’t Shooting Straight

Incompetence, deception, and lack of accountability still hound White House and health reform.

Mike Hash (L), Director of the Department of Health and Human Services's Office of Health Reform, Marilyn Tavenner (C), administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, listen to US President Barack Obama speak to the press before a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House November 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Nov. 18, 2013, 2:58 a.m.

In­com­pet­ence, de­cep­tion, and lack of ac­count­ab­il­ity doomed the Obama­care rol­lout. That’s old news.  What’s new? The nag­ging dur­ab­il­ity of the White House’s in­com­pet­ence, de­cep­tion, and lack of ac­count­ab­il­ity.

1. The Wash­ing­ton Post re­por­ted on Sunday that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­sider the new on­line mar­ket­place a suc­cess if 80 per­cent of users can buy health in­sur­ance. That is ab­surd. First, it’s an­oth­er broken prom­ise. The pres­id­ent and his ad­visers re­spon­ded to the dis­astrous rol­lout last month by vow­ing to de­liv­er an Amazon.com-qual­ity web­site by the end of Novem­ber. (If his­tory re­mem­bers Pres­id­ent Obama for one thing, oth­er than his bar­ri­er-break­ing 2008 elec­tion, it might be the out­sized and un­met ex­pect­a­tions that paved the path of his pres­id­ency.) Second, in what oth­er line of work is 20 per­cent fail­ure con­sidered a suc­cess? If one out of every five meals served by a res­taur­ant is in­ed­ible, the joint goes out of busi­ness.

2. The same story by Amy Gold­stein and Ju­liet Eilper­in re­vealed that the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment hired tech­no­logy con­tract­ors without re­quir­ing spe­cif­ic per­form­ance cri­ter­ia. It is cus­tom­ary in the private sec­tor to in­clude bench­marks in tech­no­logy con­tracts. Not so with the seat-of-their-smarty-pants Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “The mean­ing of suc­cess was defined for the first time dur­ing the pan­icky days of Oc­to­ber, when White House of­fi­cials be­latedly re­cog­nized that the fed­er­al ex­change had ser­i­ous soft­ware and hard­ware de­fects,” The Post re­por­ted.

3. In­com­pet­ence is one thing.  Secrecy is an­oth­er. The ad­min­is­tra­tion that prom­ised to be the most trans­par­ent ever settled on the “80-per­cent-is-bet­ter-than-noth­ing” con­struc­tion without mak­ing it pub­lic. The Post story is based on uniden­ti­fied sources. The pres­id­ent sug­ges­ted for the first time last week that the site would not be per­fect, but he did not go in­to de­tail. He should.

4. In a cringe-in­du­cing in­ter­view Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi re­fused to ac­know­ledge that she misled voters in 2009 when she said Amer­ic­ans could keep their health in­sur­ance plans. “Well, it’s not that it’s not cor­rect, it’s that if you want to keep it and “¦ it’s im­port­ant for the in­sur­ance com­pany to say to people, this is what your plan does: It doesn’t pre­vent you from be­ing dis­crim­in­ated against on the basis of preex­ist­ing con­di­tions, life­time lim­its, an­nu­al lim­its,” Pelosi stammered un­der re­lent­less ques­tion­ing by host Dav­id Gregory. Obama ac­know­ledged the broken prom­ise after drag­ging his feet for days. Judging by Pelosi’s per­form­ance, some Demo­crats are still in deni­al.

5. Jonath­an Karl re­por­ted on ABC’s This Week that the pres­id­ent plans to shake up his team, but not right away. Obama con­fid­ant Dav­id Plouffe said on the same show, “I think once the web­site gets fixed, and it will, you have to step back and say, OK, what do I need to do to have con­fid­ence go­ing for­ward?” In oth­er words, ac­count­ab­il­ity can wait. On Monday, an­oth­er former Obama aide, Robert Gibbs, said it’s pos­sible that the staff kept Obama in the dark be­fore the launch about the web­site’s prob­lems. “There’s not ex­actly a rush to get in­to the Oval Of­fice and tell the boss,” he said on MS­N­BC’s Morn­ing Joe. No rush. Nobody fired. No ac­count­ab­il­ity.

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