We heard him say that he wouldn't have boasted that it would be as easy to use as amazon.com or obitz.com had he known that it wouldn't. I'm not "stupid enough," he said at his Nov. 14 press conference. Most Americans agree that's true.
One thing we do know is that this is a chief executive who does not want to hear bad news, or at least effectively discourages his subordinates from bringing it to him.
He made a decision to take the question of intervention in Syria to Congress after consulting, on a walk in the White House lawn, with his chief of staff. Any staffer with knowledge of congressional opinion on the issue could have told him that he didn't come close to having the votes.
And it's known that his White House counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, learned the week of April 22 from Treasury lawyers that the Internal Revenue Service had, in her words, "improperly scrutinized several ... organizations by using words like 'Tea Party' and 'patriot.'"
Evidently, she didn't tell the president, who said he learned about the scandal only when it was made public by IRS official Lois Lerner May 10. Counsels to former presidents of both parties say they would have informed their bosses immediately.
Effective executives take special pains to ferret out bad news from the organizations they command. They know that most underlings like to tell their superiors that things are going fine.
"A culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things," writes Internet pioneer Clay Shirky on his eponymous blog. As Shirky explains, in developing software there is a "a tradeoff between features, quality and time."
"If you want certain features at a certain level of quality, you'd better be able to move the deadline," he writes. "If you want overall quality by a certain deadline, you'd better be able to simply delay or drop features. And if you have a fixed feature list and deadline, quality will suffer."
You find out what works by testing, "even if that means contradicting management's deeply held assumptions and goals." But the testing of the Obamacare website was, he says, "late and desultory."
Government doesn't have to work this badly. The Obama administration had 42 months from the passage of Obamacare to the scheduled rollout of healthcare.gov. The Pentagon, still the world's largest office building after more than 70 years, was built in 18 months.
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