Two hikers in the woods stumble across a bear in the distance. The bear spots them. One hiker calmly removes his backpack and begins exchanging his hiking boots for running shoes. “What are you doing?!” asks the other hiker, “you can’t outrun the bear!” The second hiker replies “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you.”
Yesterday I pointed out that politicians operate in an environment much like the hikers above: in any given election someone is going to win, so success generally means finding ways to be more appealing than the other guy. If he’s a saint, campaigning will be tough. If he’s an ill-spoken guy with a few divorces under his belt, it will be considerably easier. There is no absolute standard or skillset required of politicians. They don’t have to engineer anything that works, they just have to not be as bad as the next guy. As a result, they don’t tend to handle confrontations with real, physical, technological issues very well.
This article from the NY Times seems to confirm what I speculated yesterday, which is that everyone was so wrapped up in the politics of this law that no one was really minding the shop on the technical implementation of it:
The White House kept close tabs on the creation of the online exchange, with particular attention to the Web site’s design, but managing the details of the software development was left to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which Ms. Sebelius oversees. She testified on Capitol Hill this spring that the exchanges were “on track” to open on Oct. 1, but those close to her say she has been far more immersed in developing policy related to the health care law, and in traveling the country to promote it, than in its technical aspects.
Again I’ll circle back to why I am an optimist. Through a mere vote on a bill, Congress makes law. Whether they read it or not, a passed bill becomes the law of the land. However, code that is not written correctly will not work. No level of consensus, no horse-trading, and no smoke-filled back room deals can make a technically unsound project successful.
Politicians may not always be held accountable to the people for their performance and integrity, but no human endeavor can avoid accountability to reality.