OpEd

Story published: 11-05-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Obamacare belongs in private sector


“They would say there were a few problems, but they were being worked out. Everything seems to be going well — until it collapses.”

Those are the words of David Schaffer, counsel to the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee.

It was 1994 and the Federal Aviation Administrattion had been working on an Advanced Automation System since 1981.

Designed to replace the computers used to control air traffic between airports, it was nowhere near being operationally suitable.

After 13 years of cost overruns, design changes, schedule extensions and billions of dollars down the drain, the program was canceled.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office report noted: “The government did not recognize the technical complexity of the effort, realistically estimate the resources required, adequately oversee its contractors’ activities, or effectively control system requirements.”

Enter Obamacare’s website. Are we seeing history repeat itself?

After spending a reported $635 million and three years for development, the government has been unable to build a basic commercial site, models of which are abundant throughout the web.

In a “Mission Accomplished” moment, we were told the site was working and ready for us to sign up. The rest is history.

True to form, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said she needed more time and money to make it work.

Bad design and bad programming happen everywhere. It is not a government centric thing. But there is a difference in how business and government handle the issue.

Early on, Microsoft released some terrible programs. Sales went down, their stock plummeted.

Microsoft redesigned the program from the ground up. Microsoft shareholders bore the cost.

Reviewing Apple’s “MobileMe” and seeing it was a disaster, Steve Jobs fired the entire MobileMe team, and canceled the program. Apple’s shareholders bore the cost.

On its own, a business has limited financial resources, and private investors pay close attention to what is happening. It must take aggressive action to resolve problems or fail. Laws require full transparency in financial dealings.

Government has no such pressure to resolve programatic problems.

Its oversight is much less demanding, as are its fiscal transparency requirements. It has unlimited funds from its ability to tax, borrow and print money.

In business, program managers are required to know the metrics of the program, its schedule, status, usage. “I don’t know” or passing off the question to others are not acceptable responses. In government programs, this seems to be the norm.

So, where are we now?

While healthcare.gov is kicking people off the site, insurance companies are kicking people off their policies, employers are kicking people off full-time, and the blame game is going full bore.

People are finally becoming aware that the detractors have had a point all along.

David Axelrod once remarked government was too big to manage. That was before Obamacare was law.

He was correct. Let’s move Obamacare back to the private sector.