PATSY BRUMFIELD: Sebelius badly failed crucial test



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

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    I stongly support a universal health care system: I’d have preferred something more akin to a ‘single payer’ system myself; but I have to agree, something – and I don’t care what – went terribly wrong in the management of website development. That can be fixed. What I actually find even more disturbing is the failed communications campaign by the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration to get the word out about the system; overshadow the hipe by the Left and the Right with the truth. For instance, in CA the website works – you go through and it takes you right to the state exchanges. Why doesn’t this work like this elsewhere? and why aren’t we focusing on the state exchanges, of which there are quite a few, where the system is actually working. Now, to be specific it works on a Nexus and it works on an iPad, I haven’t tried it on a laptop.

    Most disturbing are the lies being told by both parties: YES BOTH PARTIES. It is not time to shut down the government but it is most definitely time to throw the bums out : IN BOTH PARTIES.

    • Guest Person

      I have to disagree somewhat – yes the web site roll out could be better but it does not surprize me that there are problems with mainly the southern states fighting the exchanges tooth and nail.
      IMHO this is a massive bill that if everything was perfect would be hard to implement – most people don’t even understand their health insurance much less the mandate. To me the problem lies with the Republicans who have waged an all out battle to defeat President Obama by tearing down his accomplishment in this area. They have outspent the goverment 5 to 1 to spread confusion and mis information – remember “death pannels”?
      The House side of Congress has worked hard to defund and tear down support areas that would help the Department of Human Services – it has not been a pretty battle.
      No we can all say the rollout needs improvement but the Republicans have wasted a lot of time and tax payer money to try and derail a law. If you family was going on a trip to see grandma and your kids who did not want to go kept popping the tires you can’t say that the trip was a bad idea.
      We need to call it like it is.

  • Abner

    Generally a good article. Sebeulius should be fired. Only one software company, CGI was considered and hired on a “no bid contract”, despite a history of failures. And now we know that one of the top executives is a close friend of Michelle Obama’s. Did Sebelius make those decisions alone or was she directed to hire the single company?