President Obama is the guy who set the bar high. If he fails to hurdle it, his tenure may be toast – as would the fortunes of Democratic candidates in the ’14 midterms.
He set the bar high by vowing to make the federal government work better. In a commencement speech back in 2010, he said: “What we should be asking is not whether we need big government or small government, but how we can create a smarter and better government.” Government, he said, “should give you the tools you need to succeed.”
Are you measuring those words against the reality of the Obamacare website rollout? I sure am.
In his 2012 State of the Union, he went further. He said that “too often,” the federal government is “inefficient, outdated, and remote.” He envisioned a government that would be “leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people….a smarter, more effective government.”
Are you measuring that rhetoric against the reality of the inefficient, unresponsive, ineffective Obamacare website? Of course.
Last January 20, in his Inaugural speech, he declared, “We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government.” And on July 8, the White House website was bursting with talk about “a better, smarter, faster government” that would feature “the integration of new technologies and innovations across the administration.” Obama officials were tasked to “find more innovative ways to deliver better results” by “ushering in old technologies, bringing in new.”
That same day, Obama said: “We need the brightest minds to help solve our biggest challenges…This government is ours. It’s up to each and every one of us to make it work better.”
Contrast all those pretty words with the ugly truths we heard just two days ago, when Obamacare’s chief digital architect testified on Capitol Hill. Henry Chao confessed that 30 to 40 percent of the federal insurance marketplace system is still being assembled – even now, seven weeks after the so-called brightest minds decided that the federal website could go public.
Here’s Chao: “We still have to build the financial management aspects of our system, which includes our accounting system and payment system and reconciliation system.” Those “aspects,” he said, are “still being developed and tested.” That testimony should not surprise us, because, as we now know, a consulting group warned last March that the whole project was a mess, and that it wouldn’t be ready for the Oct. 1 launch date.
But Chao said Tuesday that he never saw the consultants’ report. That’s right, folks. In Obama’s ostensibly “smarter, more effective government,” the chief digital architect for Obama’s signature project says he was out of the loop about what was going on.
Meanwhile, seven weeks after health care consumers were ushered to the website, they’re still colliding with digital brick walls. (“What the heck am I doing here,” they tell Obama’s navigators, “if you can’t enroll me?”) White House officials acknowledge that the signup system is still underperforming and still being repaired.
Fortunately, the signup mess is slated to be cleaned up by Nov. 30. The Obama administration said so. That’s still the case, right? Nov. 30 is still good, right? Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, speaking Tuesday to the Associated Press: “The 30th of November is not a magic go, no-go date.”
So what happened to Obama’s “more responsive…more effective government?” What happened to his “new technologies and new innovations?” Here’s what he said about the website on Tuesday: “What we probably needed to do on the front end was to blow up how we procure I.T., especially on a system this complicated. We did not do that successfully.” Here’s what he said during a press conference last week: “If you’re doing (a website) at the federal level, you know, you’re going through, you know, 40 pages of specs and this and that and the other, and there’s all kinds of law involved. And it makes it more difficult – it’s part of the reason why chronically federal I.T. programs are over budget and behind schedule.”
But if all that is true, why did Team Obama nonetheless opt for an incompetent October launch? And why did the president – mindful of his desire for smarter government – sign off on such a dumb timetable?
From his press conference: “I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to.” So he was informed indirectly? Meaning what, exactly? No wonder his poll ratings have lately mimicked the trajectory of an airplane aflame. With congressional Democrats writhing in their seats.
His time window to reverse the dive is narrowing. As I said here on Nov. 1, “Most Americans (tea-party ideologues aside) want their government to work properly. Democrats are the party of government, and we have a Democratic president whose signature domestic law is grounded in the proposition that government can be a positive force to make people’s lives better.” But when a Democratic president screws up what he’s supposed to be good at, when he screws up on making government smarter/quicker/better, he’s flirting with flameout.
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