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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Editorials

The wrong lessons on Obamacare

Published:

Leave it to the Obama administration to interpret the Affordable Health Care Act’s computer debacle as a call for more government.

The Wall Street Journal reports the administration is aiming to hire more technology specialists and “create a new federal unit dedicated to big tech projects.”

“We don’t have enough people inside of government to make good, sound technology decisions,” Clay Johnson, a former White House innovation fellow, told the Journal.

There is no question the administration badly bungled the launch of Obamacare. The problem-plagued website betrayed a lack of technological expertise — and an indifference to marketplace realities.

Obamacare, with its many taxes, fees and dictates, was heading for a rude public reception no matter how efficient the website.

But the administration might have been spared the embarrassing glitches if it had relied on the private sector, which is accustomed to meeting customers’ needs.

As the Journal reports, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services served as its own general contractor for the website.

Only after its disastrous early failure did the White House recruit help from Silicon Valley.

Rather than recognizing the episode illustrated the limits of government, the White House is looking to ramp up Washington’s technology efforts and form a high-powered tech unit.

It also wants to loosen the burdensome hiring rules, which includes interviewing multiple candidates for every job, so it can better compete for top personnel.

Streamlining the hiring process looks to be appropriate.

But we suspect creating a new centralized technology agency will not make Washington more efficient or responsive, even if it attempts to adopt private-sector practices.

There are some technological areas — the military, the space program — where the government has excelled.

But it cannot rival the private sector when it comes to responding quickly and economically to consumers’ demands.

President Obama would be wise to acknowledge that and see that the best way to avoid monumental technological mishaps is to avoid tasks government shouldn’t be performing in the first place.

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