Category Archives: National News

The Spider-Web: Why The Obamacare Site Won’t Be Done On Time

[NOTE: This column originally was written on November 1, 2013 — a month before the HealthCare.Gov Website was scheduled to be fixed.]

The biggest mistake the Obama Administration made when promising the government’s health care Website would be fixed by the end of November was making that promise.  In a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach, the Administration failed to take the time to assess what actually needed to be done to make the site work.

Obama’s decision to bring in some of the nation’s top computer talent to fix the Website would have been a brilliant move had it been made when the planning for the system began.  Those with experience in the high technology world have seen the misery which occurs when a product’s design is seriously flawed and needs to be “fixed.”  The cost of major fixes after release of a product can be ten times the cost of fixing them during the design stage.

In this case, the complexity of the effort appears to never have been totally appreciated by the Administration’s non-technical decision-makers. The biggest challenge was the new system needed to connect and interact with numerous, diverse, and often incompatible existing systems such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Internal Revenue Service, et cetera. This was similar to bringing people together to work as a team, each of whom spoke a different language and none of whom knew a language other than their own.

This lack of appreciation for the new system’s complexity was magnified by (a) the failure to properly test the new system and (b) the decision to require visitors to create an account prior to being able to see the Health Exchange’s offerings.

The failure to properly test the new system was inexcusable.  That testing should have occurred more than half a year ago so there would have been time to make corrections.  Instead it was only partially done and even that was at the last minute.  Problems were identified with too little time to fix them before the system went “live.”  Other problems went unidentified until the public began to use the system.  This demonstrated an extraordinary degree of incompetence by almost everyone involved — from the top down.

Just as irrational was the decision to require visitors create an account in order just to see what was available.  This countered the entire culture of shopping in America.  Online consumers always have been able to view goods and see prices to determine their level of interest before providing any information.  Retailers and other sellers understand a key principle in marketing — “Make it as easy as possible to buy our product or service.”  The Administration, by making consumers work harder, put up a barrier which discouraged people from even exploring what was available.

By demanding highly confidential data, the Administration drove people away.  Given the lack of trust in Government, magnified by revelations of Government abuse of private information, many citizens do not want to share their private information just to window shop.  The Government’s failure to recognize this demonstrated how out-of-touch it was with the American people.

The problems with the new system discouraged those who logged on from completing the process.  As word rapidly spread how broken the system was, others did not even bother to try.  Failing to recognize how forcing users to spend an excessive amount of time on the system would discourage participants, the Government again erred egregiously.

Shopping should be simple.  Users should have the choice of plugging in their income before they shop so they can see what the actual cost of a plan is going to be.  And it should be stated upfront whether the user should enter Adjusted Gross Income or Taxable Income — which is not stated initially (yet another design failure).  Users should be able to view all the plans at once but cannot today.

This begs the question that most plans are more expensive and that, too, discourages people from signing up at all.  This will create further problems for Obamacare if as millions of healthy people — needed to subsidize those with greater medical needs — abandon the health care system.

The high tech geniuses who looked at the problem probably threw up their hands and recommended the Administration start all over but this could entail allowing the current system to limp along for many months while its replacement is built.  Maybe on November 30th the Website will work smoothly but my guess is — no matter what the Administration does — HealthCare.Gov likely will be a mess for months to come.

=========================================================================

Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show,” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays , and on ION Television and COMCAST Entertainment Television as well as at www.HarberTV.com.  As president of a software company, he managed the conversion of over 3 million lines of computer code for a complex statistical software product and was president of an international computers’ users group.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2013 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.
=========================================================================

THE NRA IS RIGHT!

National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre’s post-Newtown press conference was seen as bizarre by many observers.  It included the incendiary recommendation that armed guards should be posted at every school.  Many scoffed at the idea and the majority on the Left saw it as a demonstration of the NRA”s lack of sensitivity to or understanding of the seriousness and complexity of the problem America faces — where guns are used to kill over 30,000 people annually.

The USA numbers (+/-10,000 homicides annually) are particularly striking when compared to annual gun deaths in other countries such as Canada (+/-175), Japan (+/-18), England (+/-41), Spain (+/-90), Germany (+/-190), Australia (+/-30).  Adjustments for population differences don’t make us look much better.

Others argued simply posting an armed guard guaranteed little because a person or group plotting an attack could easily take out that person first.  And some questioned the rationality of potentially escalating the situation by having armed personnel at school — possibly resulting in an even greater tragedy if some fraction of those hired to protect schools went berserk.

Despite these objections, the NRA’s proposal could be a good one for a number of reasons.  Here are the arguments for it.

First, having one or more armed guards at a school would reassure parents, faculty, staff, and students that they are being protected to the highest degree possible.

Second, it would give children direct exposure to the concept that their society has people they can trust to protect them.  This could have long-term benefits in regard to the relationship between police officers and the communities they protect.

Third, with approximately 100,000 public schools and 35,000 private schools as well as 7,000 institutions of higher education (both public and private) in the United States, this would generate a minimum of 200,000 and probably closer to 300,000 jobs.

The latter number assumes there would be an average of 1½ full-time equivalents per school, with small schools needing only one FTE and larger ones (especially institutions of higher education) adding an average of four FTE’s to their campuses. There also would be staffing to administer the program.  That easily would get the total number of new positions to 300,000.

Fourth, one of the key sources of staffing for these positions could be Veterans as well as many of the law enforcement officials who were laid off in recent years by state and local governments experiencing budget shortfalls.  There are several hundred thousand looking for jobs.  In turn, this approach would have the additional benefit of giving students the opportunity to meet former members of the U.S. military and law enforcement officers.

Assuming each position is paid an average of $40,000 annually (less than $20 per hour) and there are $25,000 in additional costs such as equipment, training, certification programs, taxes, benefits, vacation and sick leave, office space, other overhead, et cetera), the cost per person could easily be $65,000.

This means, for 300,000 positions, the annual tab would be almost $20 billion.  To fund these positions, all guns would have to be registered in the United States with an initial Community Safety Fee of $350 per weapon and an annual renewal fee of $50 per weapon plus a small tax on ammunition (e.g., averaging 25 cents per shell).

With 10 million weapons sold annually, sales would generate $3½ billion each year.  With almost 300 million guns held by Americans, a $50 annual renewal fee would generate $15 billion each year.  Estimates of the number of rounds of ammunition sold annually vary but assuming an average of 500 shells for new weapons and 100 for existing weapons, this would total approximately 35 billion rounds.  If the fee was set at just 25 cents per round, this would generate almost $9 billion.

The resulting Community Safety Fee total would be approximately $27½ billion annually.  The extra funds would cover the initiative’s start-up costs so schools could get protection right away.  Extra funds also could go towards additional safety equipment (such as metal detectors in high schools) and building modification expenses (such as creating entry vestibules).  Of course, it is possible this annual revenue number would go down over time because some gun owners might trim their collections and not be willing to pay fees for weapons which are worth less than the fees.

To address potential rogue owners, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, would be in charge of ensuring all weapons are properly registered.  To create a disincentive for anyone to cheat, those who fail to register a weapon would be subject to a fine of $10,000 per weapon and $5 per round of ammunition for any unregistered weapon.  Funds generated by these penalties would be dedicated to the Community Safety Program protecting the nation’s schools.

The elegance of this solution is that it allows America to continue its unique love affair with weapons while protecting its children.  While some gun owners may protest at the cost, it is a fair price to pay for a right which the vast majority of advanced nations do not bestow upon their citizenry.

=========================================================================

Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm and at http://www.HarberTV.com.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2012 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber.  All rights reserved.

=========================================================================