When technology -- and bureaucracy -- go awry in the Obama administration, Jeffrey Zients becomes the president's Mr. Fix It.
Zients left the Obama administration last April after serving as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget for more than a year, but he was just summoned back (a little ahead of schedule) to undo the glitches in the Affordable Care Act's troubled health insurance marketplace website.
A wealthy management consultant who has successfully run -- and advised -- private companies, Zients was brought in four years ago as the White House's "internal consultant." That meant he revamped federal websites, cut wasteful spending and slashed some of the bureaucratic red tape that made the government such a pain to taxpayers.
So what does Zients know about broken websites? Apparently plenty.
Zients made an early name for himself inside and outside the administration when he fixed the struggling "Cash for Clunkers" program, one of the Obama administration's first public embarrassments. As with the Obamacare website, the Clunkers computer system couldn't handle the demand. Zients stepped in to ease the logjam.
Zients was originally part of a three-person dream team charged with "modernizing" the federal government. Zients, the chief performance officer, Aneesh Chopra, the chief technology officer and Vivek Kundra, the chief information officer were dubbed the "McKinsey guys" by former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
Their mission was simple: Save taxpayers money, and ease the hassle of dealing with the government.
Together the three "McKinsey guys" launched Recovery.gov, a website that published information about the stimulus bill's grants. They also revamped the Department of Homeland Security's website so that it could update applicants on their immigration status via text message or email, and tackled the backlog in processing veterans' education benefits.
Zients was trained at Bain & Co. — the same firm that gave former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney his business start and was so heavily scrutinized in the campaign -- and became wealthy after he ushered the Advisory Board, a health care and education consulting firm, and Corporate Executive Board through their initial public offerings.
When he first joined the federal government, Zients lamented that it had "almost entirely missed out" on the technology-fueled productivity boom that had so "transformed" the private sector.
He dug in and launched Save Award to harness efficiency-minded, money-saving ideas from federal government employees.
Zients' newest charge – to get HealthCare.gov up and running smoothly -- is just the latest of many roles President Obama has asked him to fill.
In January, when the new health care law goes into effect and his work there is done, he'll take on another, as director of the National Economic Council.