The Conversation

NY Times: Obama Deserves an 'F' on

Princeton economics professor Uwe E. Reinhardt gives President Obama a letter grade on the roll out:

President Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. How would he have graded a student’s performance on, say, a term paper or test that the professor viewed as “unacceptable,” especially when there was “no excuse” for the paper’s deficiencies?

One would hope that the grade would have been F, even under modern grade inflation. I certainly would affix that grade to such inexcusably deficient work.

Reinhardt finds it incredible that the President was left out of the loop (as Sec. Sebelius has claimed). If true, he thinks this is one of the worst aspects of the overall failure:

As someone who has lectured on corporate governance and served on corporate boards, I find Secretary Sebelius’s statement astounding. Is this how the project was managed? They knew the Web site was not working and yet decided to go ahead with it anyway, without the president’s personal O.K. for so strategic and risky a decision?

Reinhardt doesn't say he disbelieves Sebelius but he clearly finds it incredible that this should happen on such a high profile project.

Woe to the members of the management team in a corporation if problems with a project are hidden from the chief executive when they become known, exposing the chief executive to embarrassing public relations surprises. Heads would roll. The board, however, would assign the blame for such problems not primarily to the management team and instead to the chief executive himself or herself. He hired and supervised the team.

That's exactly what would happen in the corporate world. The fact that it is not happening suggests we may not be getting the real story from Obama or Sebelius. As I noted yesterday, Obama was warning of "glitches" in August. Maybe that was a coincidence or maybe it is exactly what it looks like: a sign that he knew what was coming.

From that perspective, the blame for the disastrous rollout of goes to its entire management team, to be sure, but primarily to the chief executive on top of that project. In my view, not only the proverbial buck stops on the chief executive’s desk, but, for the management of this particular project, the grade of F goes there as well.

Bottom line: Obama should have known what was coming and if he really didn't that too is his failure.

The title of the piece is "The Midterm Grade for" and Reinhardt goes on to say there is room for improvement on this general scheme. So maybe Obama can bring this up to a C in a few months, but right now it's an inexcusable mess.


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