In the wake of the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, maybe the Obama administration could learn a lot about good management from Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder's 1974 comedy classic, Young Frankenstein.
Just bear with me on this one.
In Young Frankenstein, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein has a clear goal: to transplant the brain of deceased genius Hans Delbruck (a philosopher and author of 17 cookbooks) into the body of a dead criminal and reanimate the corpse, forever changing the path of medicine. Unfortunately, Dr. Frankenstein's assistant, Igor, fails to procure Delbruck's brain, instead retrieving the brain of "Abby Normal." As a result, Dr. Frankenstein puts an abnormal brain into the body of a seven-and-a-half-foot long, 54-inch wide gorilla.
Similarly, President Obama had a simple dream: to create a system of exchanges where Americans could purchase affordable health insurance, thus increasing the availability of medical care. Unfortunately, Obama's secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, failed to create a functioning website for Americans to use. As a result, many Americans woke up at 3 a.m. to buy health care to find they couldn't even log in to the site.
Notice that this is really nothing more than a communication problem. Igor knew that he'd gotten the wrong brain, but failed to pass that information up the chain of command to Dr. Frankenstein, either directly or through his assistant Inga or (hold your horses) Frau Blücher. Had Dr. Frankenstein known, he could have changed his plans. Maybe he could have used his fiancée Elizabeth's brain (since she clearly wasn't using it).
But instead, Dr. Frankenstein had to suffer the humiliation of reanimating a cadaver not even remotely ready to tackle Fred Astaire's choreography to "Puttin' on the Ritz." Likewise, Obama was forced to go out on the White House Rose Lawn in front of the entire country on Oct. 1 to plug a glitchy website. Now, the photo of the smiling woman on the homepage of HealthCare.gov has become the symbol of epic failure.
You have to wonder what Igor's thought process was: "I know it's not the right brain, but there were bound to be a few glitches in this process anyway. Maybe Dr. Frankenstein won't even notice? Maybe this will all somehow turn out okay?"
And what on Earth were Sebelius and her team thinking? They knew the website didn't work, but apparently nobody took this information to Obama and said, "Mr. President, you probably shouldn't give out that web address, the site's not ready yet." Instead they all acted as if the website would just magically be ready, the way I used to hope I'd somehow pass a test I hadn't studied for.
I know, it's a comically exaggerated caricature to compare HealthCare.gov to Young Frankenstein, but how could the Obama administration have such poor communication skills? Again, the problem isn't just that, after three-and-a-half years and hundreds of millions of dollars, the Obama administration couldn't put together a working website. It's that, after all that time and money, the Obama administration couldn't even reach the conclusion that, "Hey, this boat isn't seaworthy. Maybe we shouldn't put it out on the water."
Delaying the website would have been just one more in a long list of waivers and delays, right? But, as much as Obama insisted he'd bring a calm new level of accountability to governing ("I will NOT get angry!"), we seem to be getting the usual ridiculous resistance to admitting failure in politics (complete with the administration insisting that its critics are a bunch of torch-and-pitchfork-wielding villager zealots who never cared much for their work, anyway).
It reminds me of President George W. Bush's "Heck of a job, Brownie" moment. Or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld telling us it's just "dead-enders" causing trouble in Iraq, now, we're making "good progress"! (Though, at least Bush got rid of Brown and Rumsfeld.)
Maybe the Obama administration is hoping that, if they play out the Young Frankenstein parallel all the way, they'll get a happy ending where they wind up marrying Inga, who has a wardrobe of stunning evening-wear and who likes to roll in the hay.
I really hope they're not thinking that. In the real world, Dr. Frankenstein fires Igor. Or his monster. Or his fiancée, or Frau Blücher, or someone, anyone! (I mean, except for Inga.)
If he doesn't, he only has himself to blame, because the whole mess is ultimately his fault.