Three little words and I get shivers, still. “Poor staff work.” Frankly, it applies throughout our professional lives, but in this case, it came to be the words nobody wanted to hear when I worked in state government for my friend, Dick Molpus, then secretary of state.
He’ll tell you that we were a smart, aggressive, dedicated lot.
But before our boss went in front of the Capitol Press Corps and all those TV cameras or gave a speech, it took a lot of staff work to gather information, analyze it, make sense out of it for public digestion.
The issues and the data were refined and ready for scrutiny by the time the boss walked out.
On very very very few occasions did he walk out without every smattering and more of the latest information on whatever the subject was.
He was prepared because we were prepared.
But, on that very very very seldom moment, when something didn’t go right, we cringed in anticipation of those terrible three words – “poor staff work.”
And he was right. We were the ones he’d entrusted with bringing it all together with great timeliness and accuracy.
It wasn’t easy. But when we signed on, we knew what the expectations were.
Today, I think about Kathleen Sebelius, President Barack Obama’s secretary of health and human services, the woman at the top of the job to implement the Affordable Care Act.
If President Obama hasn’t said “poor staff work” to her, he should.
It doesn’t matter that the software vendors messed up or the techie-whatever got this or that wrong.
What matters is that initiation of the signature program of the Obama Administration is a colossal mess.
I say this as someone who had high hopes for a national health care system to help millions of Americans in need of affordable, portable health insurance. Perhaps I still do.
But I also know what “poor staff work” looks like: It’s when you are supremely entrusted to have your boss’ back, to masterfully carry out what is entrusted to you, and you fail miserably. In front of lots of people for whom success was important.
I know Secretary Sebelius insists that what matters right now is to get the system up and going. She is right.
I can’t help wondering why she didn’t bring in the “best and brightest” on the front end.
Why someone didn’t say, “Wait a minute. This isn’t working. We need to ask for a little more time.”
Surely, that would have been embarrassing. But not as much as what we’ve got now.
President Obama should ask for Sebelius’ resignation. She has failed at her biggest assignment, and failed very publicly.
Yet frankly, who would want that job now anyway? She might as well stay, and as punishment, be forced to make the ACA work and see it through to full implementation.
Then she can pack up, click her ruby slippers and go back home to Kansas.
Patsy R. Brumfield writes a Thursday column. Contact her at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.