Calling Silicon Valley.
The clunky start for the federal health care exchange's online system has done more to discredit Obama's signature accomplishment than the tea party, death panels and all. It's the worst product launch since Microsoft Vista in 2007 -- and as to which tech nightmare was worse, next time the president chats with Bill Gates, he has bragging rights. It's not even close.
Almost all tech rollouts are a roller-coaster ride, although some edge closer to disaster than others. The more complex the website, the greater the chance of a crash. And this may be the most complex web rollout ever, given the level of security that Healthcare.gov requires, among other complications.
Obama says he's getting his top IT people on it. OK, but where were they for the past two years?
It's not helping that the president and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are being cagey about the magnitude of the problem. More frank communication might inspire faith that the government can deliver on his reforms and on the exchange.
Obama said last week that 19 million people have tried to access the federal health care website, but he's not saying how many managed to enroll. The success of the entire system hinges on sufficient numbers signing up for insurance -- a projected 7 million needed during the first six months.
The president said that "there is no excuse for the problems, and they are being fixed," promising "24-hour work from some of the best IT talent in the country." OK, but how about a forthright assessment on just how bad things are and how long it could take to sort them out?
If it's going to take two weeks, the program can recover. If it's going to be more than a couple months, the president may need to delay the individual mandate, which requires the uninsured to sign up by March 31 or suffer penalties.
He probably can't decide that yet, but it would be reassuring to let Americans know he understands the impending deadline and will move it if needed.
Veterans of tech rollouts likely have told Obama not to hit the panic button. Give the IT guys the resources, and they almost always get things working in the end.
The question, with this and other technology-based startups, is whether the product is sufficiently worthwhile that users will be patient while the bugs are worked out. If they're not, then it won't matter if quality, efficient, cost-effective health care was available.
That's yet more reason for the president to be transparent about what's happening. And to enlist the help of the nation's best and brightest.