Have corporate and government leaders lost accountability?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website in October 2013.

Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, went up to Capitol Hill yesterday and spent three hours answering questions about the failure of Healthcare.gov -- a flaw that could easily rank up there amongst the biggest corporate and government failures of the past few years.

Nancy Koehn is a professor of business history at Harvard Business School.

She thinks someone will ultimately get fired over the blunder, "but that doesn't negate the fact that we don't have any accountability."

"We're living in a world in which we have forgotten that there are things that are wrong and things that are right and mistakes are made," Koehn said, "and it is a right action and socially beneficial to answer for it and make it better."

Koehn says Americans have stopped demanding those that make mistakes own up to them: Just think of the bankers who drove the world into a financial crisis or congressmembers who can't come to a compromise.


About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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The explanation here is plain and simple; there's no need for Prof. Koehn's overwrought philosophizing over the lack of accountability in our culture. This is strictly big-boy politics. Secretary Sebelius is basically bullet-proof. The president is not going to fire her over the disastrous roll-out of the ACA website. Any successor he might name would be subject to Senate confirmation. The hearing would immediately turn into a free-for-all on the ACA.

And there will be plenty of accountability. It's the only kind that matters to politicians - elections. There was a dramatic illustration of that yesterday in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The Republican candidate, Cuccinelli, who was given up for dead by the national party a month ago, closed a six point lead by the Democrat McAuliffe in the last two weeks by turning his campaign into a referendum on the ACA.

facts by jack is mostly correct about the process. Government contracts have very specific requirements. Contractors meet those requirements. At issue is were the requirements proper and if they were did the contractors meet them. With a lot more years of government service than I would care to admit I can tell you that most contractors do exactly what the government written contract requires them to do. I have seen far too many government persons, most of whom have no idea how to make a profit, write requirements so screwed up or accept something they just don't understand. Garbage in equals garbage out.

The paragons of accountability pointed out by Professor Koehn and Kai are James Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson and the Jet Blue CEO, neither of whom resigned during their accountability moment. Instead they tried to fix the mess over which they presided. How is Secretary Sebelius any different? And yet Kai is frothing at the mouth for her to be fired. Perhaps she should be but the illogic both exhibit in applying a historical analogy imperfectly does little to inform or educate the public.

Philonous, your big mistake is to think that just because the procurement process is a mess then that is the only problem. Instead, it should be fixed ALONG WITH getting rid of the govt employees who didn't have a clue at how bad the progress was. There were fed employees getting paid to manage the process. So go ahead and fix the procurement process, but also fire the slugs who were being paid but didn't have a clue. And of course blackball the contractors who were also at fault from stealing any more of our tax dollars in future contracts.

Bill Curtis, an IT expert advising the White House on the matter said on another PRI show, To The Point, http://www.kcrw.com/news/programs/tp/tp131028can_a_tech_surge_sav, that the problem is the Federal procurement process. He said that the 6500 pages of regulations governing procurement assure that the firms that get the contracts are the ones that have the legal resources to navigate these regulations. Such firms are not necessarily the most technologically capable firms. Furthermore, the time that navigating the regulations requires guarantees that the technology is obsolete by the time it is deployed.

This is why CIA is contracting with Amazon. Perhaps HHS should have, too.

Firing people won't remedy the broken procurement process. This interview, unfortunately, missed the point entirely.

Jack (from Monroe), while Obama should have said that, it would be a hollow, gratuitous placation. Other people were responsible for the project, albeit eventually reporting up the ladder to him. What is more important than words is to identify all the slugs who were being paid to do it but screwed it up so they can be fired with prejudice, never to waste my tax dollars again. Obama didn't ask the right questions to identify the problems before disaster was public, but he was not personally supposed to execute the plan. I blame him more for not firing a bunch of people than I do for the screw up.

Wow! Such emotion! And lots of partisanship. Let me quote from President Truman's library: "...in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952 Mr. Truman said, "You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you -- and on my desk I have a motto which says The Buck Stops Here' -- the decision has to be made." In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, "The President--whoever he is--has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job. "

It's not our presidents responsibility to fix this it's to accept the responsibility of what it is. He doesn't need to resign but just go to all Americans and apologize for the mess. Tell us when it will be fixed and tell us how it's going to be fair to all Americans. That's all.

Petey wrote "What would be the point of firing someone for this debacle? " Wow. A debacle is the opposite of good performance. To avoid mediocrity good performance is rewarded while bad is punished. My guess is that Petey is/was a government employee.
We want good people, not incompetent, as govt employees and appointees. BTW, did you notice that both Sebelius and Obama almost said it - they said "I accept responsibility" but didn't stop there as they should have; instead they continued with "... for fixing it." While I can't see any reason to blame Obama who can't be expected to micromanage such matters (albeit it is quite surprising he didn't keep an eye on it), there is no excuse for not getting rid of Sebelius and Tavenner - and those who screwed up under them. Having such incompetent staffs is a big reason why our federal budget is so large.

Cmon' guys cut him a break. Ryssdahl is a reporter - a media person for NPR. Supposed to be impartial. He has to ask the questions he thinks America would ask. He is reporting on Statements made by Sebelius in which she apologizes for these problems. Stating what your one family gained by enrolling in the new healthcare healthcare plan is really mute. He is reporting on what is happening to ALL AMERICANS at this moment in time. We have a HUGE problem in this country right now fueled by folks vehemently defending their side of the argument and dismissing any thought,fairness or tempering. I am OUTRAGED that banks were bailed out by us, no apologies were extracted, no reeling in of bank policy has been forthcoming and we are still loosing our homes. I am OUTRAGED about the BP oil spill and that that no one has been jailed for that mess. As such it will probably happen again. I agree that the healthcare website mess is small in comparison to that. But those 55 agencies that worked on this project and those that oversee them were still paid, and some Americans will likely suffer until the signup process begins to work. Somebody needs to be called up to the Hill to explain and at the very least apologize. I don't want to endlessly argue with my Republican and Independent friends - I want to win them over. I can't do unless I participate in a rational dialogue.

Sorry Kai but I have to agree with everyone else who commented, your mimicking of the less than stellar mainstream press leaves you in a less than stellar light. There is no one person who is responsible for the missteps of Healthcare.gov and what good would it do to create a scape goat to placate an ignorant populace? And who better to test the roll out of the web site but the citizens. Was anyone injured? Was anyone scammed out of any money? Has anyone missed the deadline to sign up for health insurance? No. You and Ms. Koehn were more than willing to give the CEO's of Tylenol and Jet Blue time to correct problems that were not of their making how about giving Ms. Sebelius the same courtesy?
As far as policies being canceled, my wife and I make about $70k and pay $400 per month for family medical insurance. My employer pays another $1400 per month. Last year we had a medical episode that came out of nowhere and cost us $30k and our insurance company $300K. So I have no patience with well to do deadbeats like Ms. Harris here (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-health-sticker-shock-20131027,0,27...) who can afford payments but expect me and other rate payers or the government, who they all profess to hate, to handle their medical bill when they get hit with a disastrous medical problem. I was disappointed in your corporate,Republican spin on this story you're better than that.


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