In a way, this is what happened to Obama with the Health Exchange disaster. He foolishly depended on the bureaucracy to produce the technology of the Exchange. Until the last minute he simply asked the bureaucrats – sometimes called “public officials,” but let’s not mince words here – if the Exchange would be ready, and they said yes. Politician Sebelius and nurse Tavenner averred that if would be ready, and technology bureaucrat Chou tried his best, no doubt. But no one was in charge, nobody put someone in charge, and apparently no one really knew how to make technology operational. That was the discovered attack on Obama, and he was devastated when the bureaucratic incompetence was revealed.
He should have known that this was coming, of course. This article in the Fiscal Times makes the point of how horrible the government is in technology: “Of 3,555 federal IT projects that cost at least $10 million, only 6 percent were a success, according to a study by the Standish Group. In addition, 52 percent of large projects were deemed "challenged," meaning they didn't meet user expectations, went over budget, or ran late. All of the remaining projects - 42 percent - were outright failures.
"Things take a very long time to get done because they have to go through such draconian processes," Jim Johnson, founder and chairman of Standish , said in an interview. "The mentality is there’s no penalty to take longer [on a task] than you should. There’s no penalty if you overspend . There’s no incentive to do a good job."
Obama can’t take this on directly now, of course. He was bitten and all he can do is cure the wound. Rhetorically, he is astutely highlighting the bigger issues of our time. Inequality of opportunity and inequality of wealth are certainly very important issues with electoral consequences. (I wish he would concentrate more on climatic change and environmental and species depredation, but they less electoral consequences, and being the non-scientist that he is, Obama probably does not fully appreciate their implications.) Certainly, the technological competence of government ranks behind these in salience as goals. On the other hand, gaining governmental technological competence might be more achievable.
So, here is my suggestion for Obama. About a year down the pike, when the Exchange issues are resolved and the 2014 elections are over, he should announce that, having been stung by the discovered attack, he is determined that future Presidents (or Kings on the chessboard) will not be skewered by such an attack again. It’s an inside baseball proposal, perhaps, and won’t win any elections; it’s really pretty wonky. But how embarrassing is it that the United States Government is so technologically incompetent?
Psychologically, this resolution should fit Obama well. It would resemble the actions of people who have been struck by tragedy. They say, I can’t do anything to help my child now, but I can take steps so that it won’t happen again to people like me. It’s the MADD strategy.
Operationally, it could be great fun for him and for us. He could assemble an All Star Technology Executive Conference (ASTEC). Get a Leslie Groves to find the Oppenheimer among the tech All-Stars – I don’t know who they would be, Bezos, Ellison, Luczo? Ask them to be patriotic. Don’t reengineer government, just reengineer tech in government. Piss off the Democrats by establishing a quasi-governmental unit that is outside civil service. Make public-private partnerships if you need to. Move it out of Washington and off the East Coast (OK, that’s really utopian.)
Make something about American government a model for the world for a change. Wouldn’t that be remarkable? And wouldn’t it be remarkable if Obama, so inexperienced and running things, would have a legacy of a breakthrough in running a modern government?
From my lip’s to God’s ears.