Barack Obama's second term has begun to founder under the weight of successive executive failures, a string which began last year in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The White House successfully fended off criticism in the short run, but questions continue over the failure to recognize the danger and prepare for the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as well as the lack of honesty afterward from the administration. Then this spring, IRS targeting of political opponents of the Obama administration came to light, along with revelations about collection of domestic communications information by the NSA. Administration officials were repeatedly exposed as misleading in all of these scandals, at best.
One thread runs through them all: No one has been fired. Not one person at the State Department lost so much as a paycheck over the loss of four Americans in Benghazi. Keith Alexander continues to run NSA, and James Clapper remains as director of national intelligence, despite both providing Congress with false testimony about NSA's activities. At the IRS, two key figures were allowed to retire, including Lois Lerner, who refused to testify about the targeting of Tea Party groups, while acting commissioner Steve Miller left the job a little earlier than he had planned.
So far, the same is true in the biggest meltdown of the second term, the entirely self-inflicted Affordable Care Act disaster. The ACA, more popularly known as ObamaCare (and until recently called that by Obama himself), has been the crown jewel in the Obama presidency. Its reorganization of the health-insurance industry has occupied most of the White House's political efforts, and its implementation has been the central concern of the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services. Both had more than three years to prepare for its official rollout, and thanks to the taxes levied immediately after its passage, had a own substantial revenue flow to fund those efforts.
The failures of the administration to provide even basic web portal functionality and security were well known even before the October 1 rollout (at least to those paying attention to the warning signs), and to everyone else afterward. The exposure of the "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan" claim as a sham has similarly garnered massive media attention as millions of cancellations went out to Americans insured in the individual markets.
The administration hasn't displayed much honesty of late, either. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that a consultant hired by the White House briefed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner, as well as two White House advisers, in April on the pending failures and yet allowed Sebelius and Tavenner to continue claiming over the summer that the project was on schedule for a successful rollout. Both remain in their roles despite their misleading statements after the warning.
Despite the massive demonstration of incompetence, everyone remains in place — even the contractors that the administration has attempted to blame for the widespread failures. A security expert told Congress on Tuesday that the website still had security gaps that created a "critical risk" of identity theft for consumers. David Kennedy, a former Marine Corps cyber-intelligence analyst, also testified that "hackers are definitely after it," and have probably already succeeded at accessing "one of the largest collections of personal data, Social Security, and everything else, that we've ever seen."
The most charitable conclusion from all of the revelations in the ACA collapse is that the management of this project has been incompetent, which for most executives would prompt a significant number of personnel changes. After all, leaving the same people in the same roles doesn't produce a lot of confidence in the ability to fix those problems now.
Even former administration officials have begun to wonder aloud why no heads have rolled in the past seven weeks. "I think the only way to restore ultimate confidence going forward," Robert Gibbs told NBC News, "is to make sure that whoever was in charge of this isn't in charge of the long-term health-care plan." David Plouffe predicted on ABC News that personnel changes would come "once the website gets fixed."
Unlike the previous fiascoes, this one has seriously damaged Barack Obama himself, and not just in job approval ratings. Over the four-plus years of the Obama presidency, his enduring high marks on personal qualities have tided the White House over during some rough times. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, those days are over. Voter impressions of Obama himself turned unfavorable by a majority for the first time in the series, 46/52; 60 percent viewed him favorably in January, and 50 percent just three weeks ago. Half of respondents now say they don't see Obama as "honest and trustworthy," which goes to 46/52 when narrowed down to registered voters. Only 38 percent of registered voters see Obama as a "good manager," and his ratings as a "strong leader" dropped from 60/38 in January to 44/55 now.
These assessments are long overdue. A strong leader would have paid more attention to the central project of his agenda long before its implementation. An adequate executive would have already removed those responsible for inexplicable failure and replaced them with more competent officials. Even a mediocre manager would know better than to promise more success with the same team that produced a spectacular and costly failure. The longer those people remain in place, the more apparent it becomes that Barack Obama finds himself in far over his head as an executive — and the less confidence anyone can have in his big-government promises and agenda.