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The buck stops-nowhere?

October 23, 2013

After over 30 years in the corporate, government and self-employed business world one thing I’ve learned is that it’s a world of ” what have you done for me lately”. CEO’s are routinely held accountable for the errors, omissions and even sins of their subordinates. If someone in your company doesn’t pay your taxes, the IRS doesn’t just go after that person…they go after your company, and even you personally. If your publicly-held company is mismanaged, and there is a cover-up to protect the stock price, you don’t get away with firing some low-level employee and getting a pass from the SEC for the failure. There is a supposition and legal precedent to allege that you knew, or should have known, what was going on in your company.

The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare website, healthcare.gov, is by all accounts, an unmitigated architectural disaster. It isn’t just the user interface that is failing, it seems to be the whole logic model. Anyone who has ever designed a website knows that even the tiniest little bit of code has a meaning and creates a pathway to some other bit of code. It’s kind of like blood circulation. It starts at the heart, feeds down to the capillaries, back into veins and arteries, and finally winds up again at the heart. If there isn’t a continuous loop, the heart stops.

Someone is directly responsible for the code, but ultimately, the onus of making sure it works is upon the administration. I can totally believe, having watched this President over the last almost five years, that he was not personally involved in any of the nuts and bolts of the website. He kind of governs on the “I want it, make it so” principle. I can also believe that his subordinates would have kept telling him everything was just fine. What I can’t believe is that, given that Obamacare will bear his name from now to eternity, that he didn’t even care enough to verify that the website roll-out would be as flawless as possible.

If he, or even his closest advisers, knew that there were systemic problems, they had a built-in out during the most recent debt ceiling battle. All they had to do was take the life ring that was being thrown and agree to delay the roll-out for a year. They had a marvelously convenient scapegoat…just blame the Republicans. If they didn’t know this thing was going to go splat, then they are too incompetent to run such a massive program. You don’t call in the experts after the fact, you involve them at the beginning.  The team that designed esurance.com or eBay’s shopping cart might have been helpful.

Toadying to your boss isn’t exactly a new strategy. Making your boss look like an idiot however, generally doesn’t bode well for your career. Today it might not matter. In a world where no one is ever allowed to fail, and where your shortcomings are always someone else’s fault,  the only people I can see being held responsible by their boss would be the ones who clean up after the dogs, or someone even lower on the totem pole. Of course someone might be enticed to fall on their sword, but that isn’t the same as taking responsibility for failures. 

Inconveniently, and flying in the face of all political nirvana, the ultimate judge will be the American people. I wonder how long they will put up with being the beta testers for this administration?     

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