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Inside the Beltway: Oh, the irony of private sector velocity’ on website repairs

- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2013

"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," states a HealthCare.gov progress report released Sunday with much fanfare following an 11-hour fix-it session conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. But wait. Alarms should go off over the pivotal words "private sector velocity and effectiveness." They have been cited by the Obama administration as an example of best practices. Oh, the irony.

Critics of Obamacare have wondered for months — years, even — why nimble, practical, fair, free market, private-sector principles were not used in the creation of the Affordable Care Act from the start. This sentiment dates back to the original 2,400-page legislation itself, and the 10,535 pages of regulations that followed. Newt Gingrich was among those who asked why the unwieldy law wasn't divided into a half dozen more-workable components.

But time marches on. The new progress report — which heralds improved software, increased capacity and lessened wait times — is optimistic.

"As the metrics detailed in this report reveal, dramatic progress has been made on improving HealthCare.gov. There is more work to be done to continue to improve and enhance the website and continue to improve the consumer experience in the weeks and months ahead," the report states, later concluding, "We believe we have met the goal of having a system that will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."

The website is "night and day from where it was on Oct. 1," said Jeff Zients, the Obama administration pointman responsible for implementing the fix, during a conference call with reporters Sunday. The analogy resonated in the sympathetic media, however. By day's end, the "night and day" transformation appeared in some 800 news accounts, according to a Google News count.

THE REPUBLICAN IMPRESSION: CHAOS

Ask a Republican, and there is no startling difference in Obamacare. It's still pandemonium, and from Day One.

"The fundamentals were done in a chaotic way, much like we're seeing in the rollout," Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, told CBS News in the wake or Mr. Zients' cheerful reports. "I don't know how you fix a program that was put together in this manner with only one side of the aisle, and taking the shortcuts to put it in place."

MR. ZIENTS PART 2

There's pesky bad timing, meanwhile. Just as he became the fix-it czar, the aforementioned Jeff Zients is entering departure mode. In 31 days, he leaves the Obamacare realm to become director of the National Economic Council, a White House advisory group that coordinates domestic and international economic policy.

Being Zients-less is providing some Democratic lawmakers with a convenient opportunity to plan a little departure mode of their own.

"We urge you to quickly appoint a replacement and extend the duration of the positive until after the 2015 open enrollment period concludes," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire in a letter signed by six other Democratic senators, delivered to President Obama last week. It notes they were collectively "disappointed and frustrated" by the health care woes, and reminded the White House that "the law's success is inextricably tied to the confidence of the American people."

The six included Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Mark Udall of Colorado — all included with Ms. Shaheen on The Wall Street Journal's recent "Obamacare Dozen" list of vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2014 and now "starting to panic" over their support of health care reform.

JUST A REMINDER

"We're fighting amongst ourselves here in this country about the role of our intelligence community. That is having an impact on our ability to stop what is a growing number of threats. Our intelligence community isn't the bad guys."

— Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, to CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

SHOPPING AND WORKING

Consider that in the month of November, Americans spent $20.6 billion on "desktop online sales," according to ComScore, an industry source. That includes $1.2 billion spent on Black Friday, and $766 million on Thanksgiving Day.

But now it's on to Cyber Monday, a period dedicated to e-commerce. Should on-the-job Americans help the economy or help their company? More than half of workers — 54 percent — will spend considerable time at work Monday shopping online. So says a new CareerBuilder poll of 3,600 employees.

One in 5 workers plan to spend up to three hours browsing at the office, 10 percent will spend three hours or more shopping online, the poll found.

"Is it December or is it the holiday shopping that is taking a toll on workplace productivity? Of workers who expect to spend 2 hours or more Internet shopping at work this holiday season, 33 percent feel they are less productive during December because of the holidays," the survey states. It was conducted throughout August and September and released Sunday. Even those who aren't indulging in the practice are out of sorts.

"Employers are often more lenient around the holidays when it comes to their employees shopping online; however, it is up to employees to make sure the quality of their work is not suffering," says Rosemary Haefner, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based workplace consultant.

THE CALENDAR PARADE

Designated calendar days appear to be increasing. Yes, we have Gray Thursday, followed by Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Now there's one more:

"On Tuesday, Dec. 3, global charities, families, businesses, community centers, students and more will come together to create Giving Tuesday," reports the original organizers at New York's 92 Street Y. The idea has since been picked up by the United Nations Foundation, the White House and 8,300 organizations here and abroad, billed as the "anti-selfie" movement.

POLL DU JOUR

24 percent of Republican voters would currently support New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the GOP nomination for president in 2016; 18 percent of conservatives and 20 percent of independents who lean Republican agree.

13 percent overall would support Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky; 13 percent of conservatives and 15 percent of independent leaners agree.

11 percent overall would support Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; 9 percent of conservatives and 12 percent of independents agree.

10 percent overall would support Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; 13 percent of conservatives and 12 percent of independents agree.

9 percent overall would support Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida; 11 percent of conservatives and 7 percent of independents agree.

7 percent overall would support Texas Gov. Rick Perry; 9 percent of conservatives and 7 percent of independents agree.

6 percent overall would support Rick Santorum; 11 percent of conservatives and 5 percent of independents agree.

6 percent overall would support Jeb Bush; 5 percent of conservatives and 6 percent of independents agree.

Source: A CNN/ORC survey of 418 Republican adults in the U.S, conducted Nov. 18 to 20.

Private sector velocity, chatter to jharper@washingtontimes.com; follow her at #harperbulletin.

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