NY Times: Obama Deserves an 'F' on Healthcare.gov

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

President Obama taught constitutional law at the University ofChicago 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 moderngrade inflation. I certainly would affix that grade to such inexcusablydeficient 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 oncorporate boards, I find Secretary Sebelius’s statement astounding. Isthis how the project was managed? They knew the Web site was not workingand yet decided to go ahead with it anyway, without the president’spersonal 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 ifproblems with a project are hidden from the chief executive when theybecome known, exposing the chief executive to embarrassing publicrelations surprises. Heads would roll. The board, however, would assignthe blame for such problems not primarily to the management team andinstead to the chief executive himself or herself. He hired andsupervised 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 rolloutof HealthCare.gov goes to its entire management team, to be sure, butprimarily to the chief executive on top of that project. In my view, notonly the proverbial buck stops on the chief executive’s desk, but, forthe management of this particular project, the grade of F goes there aswell.

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 Healthcare.gov” 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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