Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

A Clinton alternative, more ABC legal woes and where’s A-Rod?

Steven Brill
Jun 24, 2014 05:00 UTC

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in "A Conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton" in Manhattan, New York1. The Hillary alternatives:

Can it really be such a certainty that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 that the media is taking the right approach in essentially ignoring other possible Democratic candidates?

In any other situation we would be seeing profiles of a half dozen or more alternatives. But not now. Yet there has to be some possibility that the former secretary of state will opt not to run and some possibility that, for a variety of reasons, she will not win the primary contest.

One reason Clinton might not be inevitable is that inevitable often doesn’t sell well. Besides, someone could emerge who Democratic primary voters decide is a better, fresher face. Which is why we should start seeing stories about those alternatives.

So far only Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has gotten much attention. (True, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has gotten some press lately — but mostly for a series of clownish comments that should disqualify him, assuming he is ever taken seriously.)

What about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has high approval ratings but infuriates critics who decry his cautious, poll-driven approach to almost everything?

A refund for Healthcare.gov, European lobbyists, and A-Rod’s curious supporters

Steven Brill
Oct 22, 2013 13:47 UTC

1. Can we get our money back for the failure of Healthcare.gov?

Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal scored a scoop of sorts, getting the first interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius since her ill-fated appearance on “The Daily Show.” She addressed the failure of her Healthcare.gov website to function as the enrollment marketplace for the 36 states that are having the federal government operate their Obamacare insurance exchanges, instead of doing exchanges on their own.

The Journal quoted Sebelius as saying “she would see if the government was entitled to any refunds, once the work is done.” With $400 million having been spent on outside contractors for the collapsed website, reporters ought to follow up on that aggressively.

Government contractors usually escape responsibility for cost overruns, lapsed schedules or downright failure to produce a product that works by claiming, rightly or wrongly, that the instructions they were given destined the project for failure, were not explicit enough, or were changed midway through the work. In the case of Healthcare.gov, the Statement of Work instructing the lead contractor, CGI Federal, was 60 pages, single-spaced. So lack of detail may not be a great defense. But were the instructions poorly conceived — or changed in a way that caused the current fiasco? Or are other factors responsible for the failure, making it unlikely that we taxpayers can get some of our money back?

The cushy world of academia, surveillance 2.0 and $200 million to tear down a building

Steven Brill
Jul 30, 2013 11:36 UTC

1. Is higher ed the capital of featherbedding?

This sentence in an LA Times editorial two weeks ago about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano becoming the president of the University of California caught my eye: “Half of the regents haven’t even had a chance to talk to her about how she would approach the job — a job that involves 10 campuses, 170,000 faculty and staff members and more than 220,000 students.”

Does it really take 170,000 faculty and staff to serve 220,000 students? Actually, not quite. According to the university’s website, there are 121,000 faculty and staff, not 170,000. But that still means 1.8 students for every faculty and staff member* faculty and staff members for every student — which doesn’t seem like much of a workload.

So I checked three other universities at random. New York University’s website says it has about 51,000 students and 16,000 employees, or about one employee for every three students. Harvard lists 16,500 faculty and staff for about 21,000 students, or 1.27 students for every employee. Florida State University says it has a faculty and staff of about 8,200 serving 41,000 students, or five students for every staff member.

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