The list of scandals and blunders in the Obama administration is long, but the roster of people who have been fired by President Obama for screwing up is strikingly short.
From Benghazi to the Internal Revenue Service to the Fast and Furious gun-running furor in the Justice Department, the president has been loathe to hold high-level aides accountable for major bungling.
The latest example is the president’s backing of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose agency mismanaged the crucial launch of the HealthCare.gov website for people to sign up for insurance under Obamacare. In the program’s first three weeks, the examples of consumers who were unable to enroll in the poorly designed system have grown exponentially, threatening the program’s long-term viability.
The cost to taxpayers has risen along with the blundering. CGI Federal, a U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian firm CGI Group, received a no-bid contract with a base value of $55.7 million in 2011 to develop the website. Since then, the potential cost has risen to $292 million, although serious problems remain.
Mr. Obama will hold an event at the White House on Monday to promote the health care program. House Republicans will conduct a hearing Thursday to investigate the reasons for the system’s early failures.
A White House official said Sunday that Mr. Obama “will directly address the technical problems with HealthCare.gov — troubles that he and his team find unacceptable.” The official said the president will remind the public that “the health care law is about much more than just a website — it’s about finally offering millions of Americans the health care security they deserve and giving new benefits and rights to those who have coverage today.”
If ever there were a government job to carry out with care, it’s the rollout of a program named informally for the president himself. Yet Mr. Obama has resisted calls to hold Mrs. Sebelius — or anyone else — accountable for the failure.
“Even Democrats believe that someone should be taken to the woodshed for Obamacare’s failures,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “The president has been far too kind to those who aren’t doing their jobs because he has not yet felt political pressure to take action. Now that the shutdown has passed, the pressure will grow for him to make sure someone is accountable.”
But in a case of seeming willful denial, the White House emailed its Daily Snapshot update to supporters Friday with the good-news headline, “Americans are Signing Up for Obamacare.” That prompted a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to reply simply, “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney was careful to say last week that Mr. Obama is focused “right now” on making sure that HHS fixes the program, leaving open speculation that Mrs. Sebelius or other officials would be removed from their posts.
“The accountability the president seeks right now is the accountability that comes from making the system better, improving the process for consumers, fixing the problems that have arisen, and making sure that millions of Americans for whom this program was created are getting the benefits that it provides,” Mr. Carney said.
All presidents, fearing an erosion of public support, dislike admitting mistakes. President George W. Bush was mocked widely for praising Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for his agency’s response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with the infamous comment, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Mr. Brown resigned a few days later.
Critics see a pattern in Mr. Obama’s management style of avoiding punishment. The president’s casual approach can be summed up in an observation of former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, one that Mr. Obama sometimes likes to quote: “One thing I can guarantee you is that at this moment, somewhere, somehow, somebody in the federal government is screwing up.”
Even during the IRS scandal this year, in which the agency acknowledged targeting tea party groups for extra scrutiny, the president’s executive actions didn’t amount to much housecleaning. Mr. Obama ordered Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to obtain the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who left May 15. Mr. Miller’s last day in the post would have been June 8, and most of the problems occurred before he took the helm. Before resigning, Mr. Miller intended to return to his job as a deputy commissioner at the agency.
Lois G. Lerner resigned as head of the IRS exempt-organizations division in September, four months after the scandal broke.
After the Benghazi affair, in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed during a terrorist attack in Libya, nobody was held accountable. As secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton placed four State Department officials on administrative leave, but they were later allowed to return to their jobs. None of them was responsible for making policy.
The president convened an accountability review board, which found systemic flaws but didn’t call for any punishment over security failures.
In the Fast and Furious scandal, Mr. Obama resisted calls for the resignation of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Four lower-level Justice officials resigned over the botched gun-walking operation, and several others reportedly were reassigned.
David H. Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA over an extramarital affair in 2012 at the urging of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper. White House aide Van Jones resigned in 2009 after revelations about his pre-administration political activities, including outspoken support of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign in 2010 because of the administration’s reaction to media reports of speech excerpts that were misconstrued as racist. She later was asked to return to her post but declined.
This month, the administration fired some top military brass, including a two-star general overseeing the U.S. arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles, who was sacked for personal misbehavior. The deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal and space operations, was relieved of his post during an investigation into gambling issues. Also, two Marine generals were fired for failing to properly defend a base in Afghanistan from a Taliban attack in 2012.