President calls on Mr. Fix-It

Obama turns to trusted adviser on health care woes.
Associated Press
Oct 23, 2013

A career management consultant with a knack for taming bureaucratic backlogs is the man President Barack Obama is now counting on to help turn around a problem-plagued website that has marred the rollout of Obama's signature health care law.

Jeffrey Zients helped eliminate the backlogs that were created when a federal program that promised cash rebates to people who traded in their clunkers for more fuel-efficient vehicles was swamped by demand.

He did it again when the same thing happened as veterans began signing up for benefits under an updated GI Bill.

Now, Zients has been tasked with taking a troubled website that has given opponents of the health care law new reasons to argue that it should be delayed and turn it into the breezy, insurance shopping site Obama had promised it would be.

The longtime management consultant came out of temporary retirement from the federal government on Monday and quietly dived into his new assignment. Zients left the administration earlier this year after the budget director's job went to someone else, but he had agreed before the health care troubles surfaced to become Obama's chief economic adviser next year as director of the National Economic Council.

Zients, pronounced zye-ents, will provide short-term advice, assessments and recommendations to a Department of Health and Human Services team said to be working 24-7 to fix the HealthCare.gov website. Administration officials, from Obama on down, had promoted the site as the first stop for uninsured people in 36 states trying to figure out what coverage they can afford. Many people have reported having trouble using the site and the administration is now urging people to try signing up by telephone, mail or in person.

Zients has led some of the country's top management firms, advising companies worldwide.

He joined the administration in 2009 as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and the nation's first chief performance officer. He also served two stints as OMB's acting director, and led an effort to streamline government by selling off unused or underused real estate to save money. The effort stalled in Congress.

He was acting OMB director from January 2012 through April 2013, when the Senate confirmed Sylvia Mathews Burwell as director.

The 46-year-old Zients, who lives in Washington with his wife and four children, is well-respected and liked inside the White House.

"I think that's why he's continually being handed tough jobs," said Kenneth Baer, who was a senior adviser to Zients at the budget office.

Zients grew up in the Washington area and spent his career in business before agreeing to work for Obama. That two decades of experience allowed him to bring a different perspective to government and how it should be run, Baer says.

"He's not going to be looking under the hood and tell you, 'I can fix the coding, I can fix it,'" Baer said of Zients' newest assignment. "His skill is going to be how to identify challenges, prioritize what solutions need to be done next, assessing what talent is already available and then how to motivate them to do that job as quickly and as ably as possible."

Aneesh Chopra, who was Obama's chief technology officer, said Zients's track record amounts to "a relentless focus on execution."

"If I was confident this issue would be resolved before his participation, I am doubly so now," said Chopra, who worked for Zients at the Advisory Board Co., one of two business advisory firms where Zients held top posts.

In 2009, after far more drivers than anticipated signed up for the Cash for Clunkers program and the federal website created to process rebates of up to $4,500 per new car kept crashing under the weight of the demand, Zients helped smooth things out.

He played a similar role following the rocky rollout of a new GI Bill for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program had become so bogged down that the Veterans Affairs Department began to issue $3,000 advance checks to thousands of veterans who needed help covering expenses until their claims could be processed. At one point, Zients, Chopra and Vivek Kundra, then the chief technology officer, flew to a VA processing center in St. Louis to size up the problems.

Before Zients joined the administration, he was chief executive officer and chairman of the Advisory Board Co., and chairman of the Corporate Executive Board. Zients also founded Portfolio Logic, an investment firm that focused on business and health care service companies.

 

Comments

YoMamma

So $630 MILLION dollars isn't enough to build a website? Now we have a Czar to "fix" it. Oh boy I can't wait to log on!!!

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Let's not forget it was a sweet no-bid contract to a Canadian-based firm who the Canadian government itself fired in 2012 from a major project. I was a bit skeptical at first as it just didn't seem right but apparently this is how it is. In addition, in the last five years, Federal no-bid contracts have increased about 10%. Is it solely the President's fault? Not necessarily, but the fact he continually seems to be innocent, baffled, and blind to negative things is disingenuous. Or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, his staff is too scared, uninformed, or yes-men to actually tell our President when something is wrong.

I am still waiting for him, members of Congress, and the Supreme Court to hold live, public sign-ups for this law featuring the efficient and accurate shopping system and how happy they are with this great product, as it was put by President Obama. I'm sure he can get a nice, $15,000+ yearly deductible plan for his family of four for maybe ~$1,200/month?

I would also love for him to address, unless nobody has told him, that 45 states have increased premium costs for similar or "worse" plans. Many have lost their current coverage, too, despite promises made in Joint Session speeches and elsewhere preaching otherwise. Also for him to explain that coverage does not equal care, especially when you have to come out of pocket for the first $5,000 on, say, an individual plan.

I have no doubt that the ACA was well-meaning, and there are some good parts to it, but the bad far outweighs the good and at least my major doubt came in the speed, way, and flippancy this HUGE law was passed. I doubt hardly anyone who voted for it actually read it, let alone comprehended it, and it was all just supposed to magically make everything better...somehow. We just have to trust them. That's all. Of course, they don't have to live by their own laws. Must be nice.

All this expense, frustration, job loss, hours reductions, bitterness, contention, partisanship, and more over making sure...what was it?...10% of our population has coverage who didn't before for any number of reasons? We coerce our population to make private contracts with private companies else they face a tax penalty?

It's very frustrating, especially as I DO care about people. I also see just as much lapsing on medical payments for those who can't pay $4,999 a year for care especially after premiums. Also, what about policy lapses? Lapses are huge issues for insurers even before this mess as they create expense and hassle on both sides of the contract.

Why aren't people asking these questions? Why aren't leaders addressing them even proactively? That's what upsets me most, and my anger is non-partisan despite those lines being drawn.

Contango

Re: " 45 states have increased premium costs for similar or "worse" plans."

Why? Because Obama☭are mandates numerous "free" expanded benefits.

The IMPORTANT question is: Who are the health care providers in the plans offered by exchanges at a supposedly lower cost?

No one knows because enrollees haven't yet tested the coverage.

Many of the insurance cos. were recently only Medicaid providers and the health care providers are limited.

It's a "pig in a poke."

mikesee

Hero Zone you make a lot of good points. I think most people would agree that healthcare needs some kind of makeover in this country. However, for our gov't, who has a track record of poorly run non efficient programs needed to keep their noses out of it.

As I stated before the health insurance companies will be making even more money than before and most people don't even realize it. They may see their premiums go down but that is only because the gov't is picking up a portion of their tab. In reality 95% of all health plans will see an increase in premiums. In the long run this will ultimately cost the taxpayers more money as the gov't WILL have to raise taxes at some point to pay for this debacle.

Also over half of the insurance companies in the USA will not participate in Obamacare. Since there is less competition the remaining health insurance companies can somewhat control the premiums.

Contango

Re: "His skill is going to be how to identify challenges, prioritize what solutions need to be done next, assessing what talent is already available and then how to motivate them to do that job as quickly and as ably as possible."

Reads like the nation oughta fire the Incompetent-in-Chief and think about replacing him with Mr. Zients.

Enjoyed Pres. Obama's ACA infomercial in the Rose Garden the other day.

"That product is working. It's really good."

Convincing huh?

If he improves his pitch he 'might' have a future hawking Ginsu knives, Shamwow or similar products in the AM hours on cable TV.

The Big Dog's back

That's what happens when you try to make nice with Repubs and let them try to build a website. Repubs are only good at tearing things down.

Sam

Once again piddle puppy blaming the Republicans for the mess that Obzo caused and owns. Over 300,000 people in Florida just lost their health care coverage compliments of the regime. Yet another failed far left entitlement destroying the middle class.

Darwin's choice

Big Dog, thats not a teat your sucking on.....

Trying to be your alter/coasterfan? Moron democrat.

eriemom

Personal attacks are not necessary.

SamAdams

A company based in Canada -- which is overwhelmingly socialist in its government structure -- somehow equates with "Republican" in Big Dog's fertile imagination (let's remember what some of the best fertilizer is, while we're at it!).

It seems far more likely to me that Big Dog is taking a page out of the President's book: If it's good, I did it! Me, me, me! If it's bad, Republicans are to blame. Ten to one odds Big Dog ate his homework, too...

princedenny

We've seen how "successful" oBUMa has been trying to "fix" things over the last 5 years. Why should this be any different? The only question is, what will he screw up next?

Dr. Information

Hot Mess = Obama and Obamacare. Lol. This supposed great thing has been anything but from day one. Obama to blame, nobody else. LOL.

SamAdams

Since Obama can't blame Bush for this one, I find it fascinating that he's out there in the Rose Garden talking about how the program "works" and "people like it." NEITHER could be further from the truth, but apparently denial isn't just a river in Egypt! If anybody out there is waiting for Obama, Pelosi, Reid et al to finally, FINALLY accept responsibility for a mistake of gargantuan proportions, well, don't hold your breath. You'll just pass out, and there won't be any doctors or nurses willing to take care of that bump on the head unless you've paid huge premiums for minimal coverage, most of which you'll never need.

The New World Czar

The "Hope and Change" of the ACA is now FUBAR.
Sure, blame this on Ted Cruz too.