Earlier this month, ten Republican senators sent an unprecedented letter to President Obama urging that he fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has served under Obama since 2009. As the Obama care debacle drags on, however, the administration has refused to send her packing. Sebelius, for her part, as an interesting defense, saying that, “the majority of people calling for me to resign … are people I don’t work for.”
In fact, the failure of the $400 billion site has not result in a single termination, although the top technology officer, Tony Trenkle, is quietly breaking out the cardboard boxes for retirement. Government waste has long gone unpunished in Washington, but Sebelius’ continued employment in the administration brings the precedent to a whole new level.
In the letter to Obama, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said, “When you have good management and you have clear accountability, you usually get something done right.” With Secretary Sebelius, he said, “we had neither.” Law makers are not just angry about the failed rollout of Obama care, but they also worry that Sebelius could ignore signals that the site was not ready ready for its October 1st launch.
Recent reports have stressed that the system is beginning to recover from its calamitous first days when millions of Americans logged on to try and sign up for insurance. While the Obama administration has made assurances that the healthcare.gov site will be fully operational by the end of the month, the senators wrote, “we have little confidence that immediate resolution is imminent.”
While the user experience may be improving, the technical fixes have largely been superficial and hide more worrying glitches that still persist. The site continues to send error filled information to exasperated insurance companies and is still giving users the wrong information about their qualification for government subsidies.
Showing the extent of his lack of managerial skills, Obama reportedly summoned Sebelius to the White House to express how “annoyed” he was with the failure of his signature piece of legislation. According to The Hill, Obama demanded simply that the problem be fixed and fixed fast. A White House senior official said that, “the president isn’t looking for a scalp to win the news cycle.”
Yet, in any private company, Sebelius would have more to answer for her screw up and would certainly not be tasked with heading the glitch-fixing squad. “If Secretary Sebelius worked for a private company, she would have been done weeks ago,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. But it isn’t just managerial incompetence that is keeping Sebelius safe in her job.
Michael F. Cannon, the Cato Institute’s director of health policy studies, explained that the Obama administration doesn’t want bloody confirmation hearings right before they appoint the members of Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The 15-person board has expansive powers, including the ability to levy and raise taxes, a legislative power normally reserved for Congress.
Cannon explained to Glenn Beck that, “if the president and the Senate cannot agree on whom the president will appoint… then all of IPAB’s powers fall, all of those legislative powers, fall to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.” If the administration can’t pack the board with its own cronies, it has Sebelius on the hook for the web site failure and won’t be afraid to pull the strings.