When the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services published its “progress report” yesterday on healthcare.gov, it included an interesting argument in its summary.
“The general contractor and rapid response team has served us well; enabling us to execute with private sector speed and focus currently and for the long term.”
In the report itself, HHS repeated the claim.
“While there is more work to be done, the team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness, and will continue their work to improve and enhance the website in the weeks and months ahead.”
That’s quite a bit of celebrating of the “private sector,” its “speed and focus,” and its “velocity and effectiveness.”
On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Chuck Todd picked up on this, noting, “Okay, that is an acknowledgement that, ‘You know what? If this was a government operation for a long time and it failed, now we’re bringing in the private sector folks.’ I mean that is an indictment on the whole idea of government as a solution.”
Clearly, the most substantive aspect of the health care news is the vast improvements of the website itself, but I still wish the administration wouldn’t use rhetoric like this.
For one thing, there’s no reason to reinforce the conservative frame about the inferiority of the public sector. It’s wrong and it skews public attitudes in an unproductive direction. For another, looking back over the last five years, some of the Obama administration’s most impressive displays of competence – managing Recovery Act investments, overseeing the rescue of the American automotive industry, responding effectively to natural disasters and terrorist threats, etc. – came without much of a role for private-sector “effectiveness.”
And finally, when it comes to health care in particular, let’s not forget the role of private-sector contractors in helping create the website’s troubles in the first place.
President Obama has talked repeatedly and passionately about using government as a problem-solving tool. Here’s hoping HHS hasn’t forgotten about this.