Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced this morning that she's asked the department's inspector general, Dan Levinson, to figure out what went wrong with Healthcare.gov, a move that demonstrates a certain amount of new confidence. Before now, launching an investigation would have been politically risky for Sebelius. "What if — like Oedipus — Sebelius orders investigation only to find she was responsible for Obamacare problems," Philip Klein, of the conservative Washington Examiner tweeted. But, if you think you're the cause of a problem, you're not likely to ask someone to figure out what went wrong.
Sebelius wrote in a blog post early Wednesday that Levinson will review "the acquisition process, overall program management, and contractor performance and payment issues related to the development and management of the HealthCare.gov website." It's part of a three part plan to understand why the Healthcare.gov launch was so awful — they'll also hire a chief risk manager to "assess risk management practices" and train employees of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid on how to deal with and handle contractors.
This is a sign that Sebelius has weathered the Obamacare storm. Obviously, the site still has problems, and the lost plan controversy will soon give way to a lost doctor controversy, but Sebelius isn't going to get fired any time soon. And as Politico argues, though the White House hasn't done more than offer support when necessary, it still hasn't completely thrown her under the bus. "Kathleen Sebelius isn’t going anywhere — but the White House isn’t exactly pulling out all the stops to defend her work," as Politico's Dan Nather put it.
Sebelius announced the investigation, and November's Obamacare numbers, just before she attended yet another hearing Wednesday morning with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The timing is mostly like a strategic move intended to placate the committee, but she didn't need to bother. As the website improves, the hearings get less interesting:
Sebelius hearing room surprisingly empty. Maybe a sign that we're all hearing-ed out?— David Nather (@DavidNather) December 11, 2013
Sebelius hearing in the House is pretty empty, Rep. Pallone points out that many Dems are at Mandela memorial: pic.twitter.com/orWVBQud2R— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) December 11, 2013
Compare that last photo with this photo, from the October 30 hearing:
The heyday of Republican committee members berating Sebelius has passed. "The hearing covered mostly the same issues that have been dredged up in previous hearings and in the media," noted The Verge noted, one of the few sites to lead with the hearing, instead of the Inspector General's investigation.
One of the "same issues" included why Sebelius hasn't enrolled in Obamacare yet. Besides having employer insurance, she's also "an old lady," in her words (she's 65 and eligible for Medicare). And while there were some jabs exchanged:
"it's like talking to the Republic of Korea or something" -- Rep. Shimkus on talking to Sebelius. said to Sebelius— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) December 11, 2013
They didn't have the same weight as past hearings (we're pretty sure he means North Korea, aka the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — unless he's acknowledging that, as a fellow leader of America, they should be allies). There was once a time when these hearings were jam packed and fierce. Now there are just empty seats and geographically challenged representatives comparing Sebelius to the wrong Korea. If you're the most prominent and highest ranking official of a department that botched the rollout of a major program, it's not a bad change of scenery.