October 23, 2013 (San Diego) There is a fantasy going among many Americans that Presidents and Cabinet Level Secretaries know everything that goes on in the Government at all levels and at all moments. This is a fantasy since the amount of information flowing through the Federal government, state governments and even local governments is so large that at the very least you are talking information overload.
This is why good chief executives delegate and trust that those at lower levels will do a good job most of the time. So when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN that the President was unaware of the very serious issues with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website, this came as no surprise to me. This is just the way it is in real government. Most things do not rise to the level of Presidential imprimatur. What Presidents, it matters little what party, do is look at the big picture and how policies are working. Nuts and bolts, and building a website is nuts and bolts, is not even at under secretary level, or at least should not be.
Now, but this is the most important thing that the Administration has done. They should…yes I can hear you now. Given the problems with the website now it has risen to the President. But to expect even the Mayor of a small city to know every little minutiae of government is to truly live a fantasy.
We cover city politics, hence we spend a lot of time in City Council meetings Trust me on this, while at times Council meetings get a tad on the heated side, for the most part watching paint dry can be far more exciting. Still, it is important to cover those meetings. why we do it. But one constant in city council meetings is that no decision is made without the input of career city employees who are considered staff. They bring things before the Council that the Council asks for.
You can safety assume that something similar, but heavily amplified, is going on in your Federal government. Like my local members of the City Council, reports are written, reports are sent up the chain, and a few of them reach the top layers of elected government. Building a website, even a critical website, is well bellow the purview (or real expertise) of the Chief Executive. In fact, unless your Chief Executive comes from the technology field, nay from the coding field, expertise is non existent and by force this is delegated to those who do. This includes the people dolling out government contracts.
Now that we have had the major problems we have had, it is now up there at the level of the President. These are fixable though, and given the problems we have with legacy systems even Amazon would have had issues.
The calls for resignation are political, and have nothing to do with implementation, Nor is this the first implementation of the ACA. It has already affected millions, with things like no more pre-existing conditions, and insuring kids under parents policies until they are 26. The problems are not unexpected, and will be ironed out. But for the moment, you can easily enroll by using a phone. And if you happen to be in California, I think the California system is working fairly well. We know Kentucky’s is the smoothest of them all.
Also you still have time to enroll, and that gives time for the website to be ironed out. That said, there is a lesson in this. The cheapest bidder is not necessarily the best, and anytime you develop such a monster, beta testing is more than just critical. Will heads roll? Perhaps, but that head rolling is just political and does not target the true heads that should roll, like the project heads who did not beta test this properly.
I will not test it, I have insurance and quite frankly I will not add to the traffic.
Oh and one thing that occurred to me. The size and scope of the Federal Government under George Washington was much smaller. In fact, it was smaller than a major modern American city. If communications were up to what they are today, perhaps President Washington would have known all details of government, but even he did not know all that was going on and delegation was critical.