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What We Can Learn From the Healthcare.gov Debacle

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In a House committee hearing this week, several security experts agreed with committee Republicans that it would be better to shut down Healthcare.gov than continue piecemeal efforts to fix the as-yet unknown number of issues (including flaws that could expose users to identity theft). This is just the latest example of how the Obama Administration bungled the cornerstone of its legacy: providing millions of Americans access to affordable health insurance.

While there are parts of Obamacare, née the Affordable Care Act, that are laudable -- the law's extension of Medicaid, its prohibition against denying insurance to those pre-existing conditions and more -- the fact is that the law's public face, at least for now, is a non-working website that, among other problems, apparently has major security flaws. Whatever the reasons and however understandable they seem around a conference table on Pennsylvania Avenue, the fact is that the rollout of the website that was supposed to allow people to purchase affordable health insurance has failed. And if the Affordable Care Act only exists for most Americans on a verkakte website, does it really "exist"?

It's clear from how badly the launch of Healthcare.gov was botched and how difficult it's proving to fix that there are problems on the no-drama Obama team, and that they stem from the lack of a serious project leader who had the ability and resources to create a solid plan, stick to it and overcome potential complications. While the guy in charge of the nitty-gritty details of making this thing work wasn't the President, the mess created by whoever was in charge has now been publicly laid at his feet.

I'm not suggesting that the head of a complex bureaucracy like the federal government can or should micromanage the daily tasks of everyone under his or her employ. But it is his or her job to hire the best and the brightest people, make sure they have the tools they need to work and that they have a system in place to make sure the task at hand gets accomplished. When it comes to my companies, if I pick the wrong managers or they pick the wrong people or we don't give them what they need (including a plan or enough time) to get things done and we fail to deliver for our clients or customers, then the company has failed - ergo, I have failed, because the buck stops with me.

The failures with the rollout of Healthcare.gov are systemic, widespread and -- if the ongoing inability of the site to work is any indication -- inexorable. There is no fast or easy fix. Tragically, after all the legislative battles, all the legal maneuvering and all the ugly rhetoric, the blot on Obama's legacy legislation might actually be this malfunctioning website, and the best his people can say is that they didn't have enough time.

That's no excuse. Time is a limited resource in every project (though anyone who has interacted with bureaucrats knows that they sometimes think it's inexhaustible), and everyone working on the Obamacare rollout knew they faced hard deadlines and public scrutiny. They had the ability to plan for the time crunch but reports indicate that they waited out much of the past three-and-a-half years trying to make sure they were absolutely going to have to do the work before they even got started on most of it. That was clearly an executive decision, and has cost them - and the American people - dearly.

Planning -- whether for a big project, a potential disaster or a major purchase -- is the number one requirement for every successful leader. You have to plan for that which you want to accomplish, for the potential pitfalls and problems, and for what comes after you finish. As a consumer, that means you don't focus on building your credit a few months before you shop for a home or car. As a business, it means you don't wait to design and implement a security program until after you have suffered a data breach. Neither task is a sprint. Both are marathons.

It's time for us to thank the Obama Administration for reminding us what not to do when rolling out a new product. It's also time for Team Obama to read a few Management 101 books and come up with a plan for the rollout of the Affordable Care Act that is more than politics, press conferences and empty promises.

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