…said Richard Nixon, famously. Comes now Joe Biden, with “I am not a geek.” Specifically, in responding to questions about the problems with the Obamacare website and its supporting systems, Biden said:
“Neither (the president) or I are technology geeks and we assumed that it was up and ready to run.”
I don’t think the main problems with this implementation have to do with a lack of geekitude–most likely, there are many quite competent software developers working on this project–but rather with a lack of effective management. (And if there is a shortage of competent developers on the project, well, that’s a management issue, too, isn’t it.)
Real managers, real executives, don’t assume that important things will be ready when they’re supposed to be ready, and they aren’t satisfied with superficial answers to superficial questions, either. These effective leaders are people who have developed effective questioning skills so they can find out what is really going on. They establish open, non-fear-based organizational cultures so that people with concerns feel able to bring them forward. As I noted in my post about Benghazi (excusing failure by pleading incompetence), it is the responsiblity of an executive to establish an information and decision-flow architecture…including clear assignment of responsibilities…to ensure that the right things are seen and acted upon by the right people at the right time. Failure to do this..and to maintain and tune the system over time…will predictably result in catastrophes.
Later in the interview with Biden, the Vice President also said he didn’t know the specifics of why the website isn’t working, but that he was told the platform “is fine, but they have to change an awful lot of the inputs.”
“Look, all I know is they talk about 50,000 lines of this and this, I don’t know the technical reasons,” Biden said.
”So I don’t know, I wish I could tell you, that’s why I became a lawyer,”
A pretty flippant response to a serious situation. Slow Joe might not be able to understand the technical reasons for the failure, but he should be able–if he were competent at his job–to investigate and understand the management reasons for the failure.
Some of the questions that come to mind about this debacle are: How were the contractors selected? Why was it decided to have the government (CMS) act as prime contractor, rather than choosing an external company for that role? What do the contracts with the outside contractors actually specify, in terms of deliverables? What remedies are provided in the contracts for failures in delivery? If these remedies are inadequate, why did the government not require that they be more stringent? What coordination vehicles were there between the government group writing and interpreting the Obamacare regulations and the separate group that was attempting to act as prime contractor? Was there a single individual in charge? What project scheduling and tracking methods were employed throughout this effort?
These are not issues that are specific to software technology–the above questions are ones that any good executive, whether his background is in construction or in theater or in wholesale distribution, would understand that he should ask.
A United States President is not elected as a philosopher king; he is elected to run the executive departments of government and to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress. The members of the present administration have repeatedly demonstrated their utter incompetence to perform these tasks.
An administration that seeks endless expansion of government’s role–but is at the same time completely incompetent at carrying out basic executive tasks–will drive expanding circles of chaos throughout ever-broader reaches of American society and the American economy.