Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

November 12, 2013

Immediate lessons from health-care reform

As President Obama has recognized, his administration’s failure to deliver a functioning website that Americans can use to enroll in Obamacare represents an inexcusable error. The Affordable Care Act, which legislates near-universal health insurance, was passed after a more than a century of failed efforts to achieve this progressive dream in this country. It is tragic to be falling short on the mundane task of enrolling Americans in health-care exchanges. Even if the goal of getting the health insurance exchanges working by Nov. 30 is achieved — and objective observers cannot regard this as a certainty — a shadow has been cast on the federal government’s core competence.

What can be learned from this episode? It is too soon to know with confidence, but some preliminary judgments are possible.

The dismal track record of the implementation of large-scale information technology initiatives even in rigorous and focused corporate environments points up their difficulty. Unexpected obstacles always arise, deadlines are missed and budgets are overrun. Maximizing the prospect of success requires providing for slack in the schedule and the budget, structuring projects with clear accountabilities and frequent checkpoints and assigning oversight responsibility to people with extensive information technology experience rather than general managers with programmatic commitments.

Success also requires some trusting but more verifying. A homeowner who hires a general contractor to build an addition, discusses the project and then goes away for six months probably would be unhappy with the result. The same is true for public managers who hire contractors to perform essential tasks but fail to rigorously oversee every step.

Another requisite for success is steadiness and realism in the face of difficulty. Once a project gets off track, there is an overwhelming temptation for everyone involved to circle the wagons and promise rapid repair so as to hold critics at bay. Yet the right response to failure is to surface problems as rapidly as possible and to move more deliberately and carefully — not more quickly. In football, the best teams stick to their playbooks even when they fall behind. When one has fallen behind on a project, it is important to mobilize new resources and management but not to overpromise with respect to how soon and how good a fix is possible. One instance of over-optimism will ultimately be forgotten or forgiven. Repeated overoptimism should not and will not be excused.

Text Only
Opinion
  • Why Obama shouldn't go to Ferguson On Monday, ABC’s Ann Compton asked President Barack Obama whether he would visit Ferguson, Missouri, amid the continued unrest. Obama didn’t give a firm answer, but he did suggest it’s probably not a good idea.“When they’re conducting an investigatio

    August 20, 2014

  • Food stamps' $80B secret spending program Imagine a government program that has exploded in size, is the subject of bitter partisan haggling and spends almost $80 billion a year in secret.No, not the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Homeland Secu

    August 20, 2014

  • Vouchers provide greater choice I was chatting the other day with a fellow who, along with his wife, homeschool his children. We joked about the stereotype: Moms in denim skirts.But then he expounded on the benefits his youngsters have derived from being taught at home: a customize

    August 20, 2014

  • A rare experience Alexandra Petri’s editorial, “What exactly are we seeing in Ferguson” is well written and did something which has increasingly become a rare experience for me. Her article caused me to think!Petri makes the case for media coverage of American events,

    August 19, 2014

  • Naive? Simple? I will admit outright that I may be a little naïve and tend to look at things through a simple prism. I received a suggestion for a column with an accompanying article written by By Reed Abelson and Eric Lichtblau concerning the failure of our govern

    August 19, 2014

  • Don't pass 'coup clause' with a security waiver It is a sad reality that national security waivers often render human rights laws moot, inviting the government to overuse the loophole to accommodate immediate needs. The “coup clause,” which mandates foreign aid suspension to countries after a mili

    August 19, 2014

  • Clinton could end up like Gore Although we’re all still sort of pretending that it remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016, she recently gave the most definitive confirmation she has to date of her impending candidacy. No, she didn’t say the words

    August 16, 2014

  • Guru will work for food ‘At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion dollars. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has beco

    August 16, 2014

  • Ferguson police fumbled protests From the chief of the police department to the president of the United States, government officials on Thursday promised a different approach to the racially-charged unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. But the situation demands a lot more tha

    August 16, 2014

  • A better tax code solution: taxing consumption According to much conventional wisdom, the flap over corporate “tax inversions” is just the latest evidence that the tax code needs a comprehensive overhaul like the one agreed to by congressional leaders and President Reagan in 1986.Whether you cons

    August 15, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks