Saturday, April 9, 2011

April Foolery

I left the office Friday evening having been given instructions on what to do and not do in the event of a government shutdown. No work after 6:00 pm until Monday morning, meaning no use of Blackberry or laptop. And no, I didn't get the DT's. Went to dinner with the news still looking pretty bleak, but by the time we were headIng home it appeared that a deal had been reached (as it was, with an hour and a half to spare). all just a prelude to the battles still to come.

No point recounting here how insane this all is, how little it has to do with the problems we face. For those of us just trying to do our jobs and to manage staff members trying to do theirs, all of this is feels like an unnecessary distraction. And it continues to be dispiriting that the public debate was all about who to blame for what seemed like an inevitable shutdown, with much heat but precious little light shed on how any of this is in the country's interest.

The deal apparently does mean that DC will not be able to use locally-raised tax revenue (ie, not from a Congressional appropriation) to provide abortions for poor women. It's strange enough living in a place without representation in Congress; now these folks who don't allow us any say in what our government does are telling us what we can spend our own money on.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

March Madness

No, I don't mean the NCAA kind. We went home for Kate's spring break and headed up to Tahoe for a few day's skiing. What we found was more snow than I can remember seeing in the 30+ years we've been going up there. We had a couple of days of great powder skiing, light and fluffy, no Sierra cement--and then had to wait a day to go home until I-80 reopened.

We got back to a cold and rainy DC, but the cherry blossoms are an unmistakeable sign that Spring has arrived. Glorious symbols of the beauty and fragility of life, especially poignant this year after the earthquake and tsunami.

The madness that has been going on here shows no signs of letting up now that April is here. They're playing "chicken" over shutting down the government again--I never stop being amazed by how freely people claim to speak for "the American People" when what they really mean is "that portion of the American people who agree with me." I think it pays to remember that there are lots of folks out there who don't agree with one's own views on every issue--and they are Americans, too.

Meanwhile, the best example of March Madness that I came across is the member of Congress who, during an oversight hearing, compared the Affordable Care Act to Das Kapital.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Snowed in!

Home to Oakland for Kate's spring break, we made plans to head up to Tahoe for a couple of days of skiing, my first of the season, the fewest ski days I've had since--I was five, maybe? Little did we know that we were going to be in the middle of an epic series of stormed that have brought more than 10' of snow over the past 10 days. Great powder skiing at Sugar Bowl and Squaw, including first tracks down 75 Chute (for those of you who know the mountain). Plus yesterday was an historic day (in addition to being the one-year anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act): Kate decided to try skiing again after 11 years on a snowboard, and had a good time. We may have reclaimed one.

Now we're snowed in, I-80 is closed due to blizzard conditions. We'll have to stay another night and hope to get back tomorrow. Cowabunga!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring at last

On the Mall, late afternoon, 75 degrees, sitting next to Rodin's Burghers of Calais, looking at cherry blossoms in full bloom. In Japan, the cherry blossom is a symbol of evanescent beauty, of life and death; they are glorious and then blow away. I imagine they will be especially poignant this year, as we learn, yet again, that no matter how advanced we are, no matter how well we think we are prepared for the worst case scenario, we actually can't even imagine the worst case scenario and won't ever be prepared when it comes.

Here in DC Spring is, of course, expected and indeed inevitable. Which doesn't prevent it from being a wonderful surprise when it finally comes. We didn't have a particularly harsh winter, nothing like the "Snowpocalypse" that greeted me when I arrived in Washington last February, and other parts of the country have certainly endured much worse than we did. Still, people don't seem to quite believe the weather has turned: I saw both sandals and UGGS today, along with quite a few unnecessary overcoats. Looking forward to three months of wonderousness before the dreaded summer.

Meanwhile, I fly home tomorrow to see my beloveds, haven't seen them since New Year's so very excited. And of course it's supposed to rain every day during the week we'll be back. Which won't be so bad as long as it stays just cold enough to be snow, as we'll be in Tahoe for a few days. This will be the fewest ski days I've had in at least 30 years, and it is hard to take. One more reason why despite what people here like to say, we will be going back . . . .

Sunday, February 27, 2011


clearance, n

1. The action or process of removing or getting rid of something
2. Official authorization for something to proceed or take place.
3. Clear space allowed for a thing to move past or under another.

You probably think of clearance the way i used to, when I was told to turn off my personal device, or when I was installing some bookshelves. Or when a bookstore files for Capter 11.

Clearance has taken on much more importance for me since I joined the executive branch. It's the process for getting approval to release something in writing to the public: it could be a regulation, to be published in the Federal Register, explaining what we think Congress meant and how we're going to implement it, some sub-regulatory guidance explaining what we meant by the regulation, or it could be just a letter.

Clearance involves some list of people being given some amount of time to make comments on whatever I and my team have written. Some of the people on the list are up the chain of command, so that makes perfect sense. And the lawyers in the General Counsel's Office. And if it's a regulation, the Office of Management and Budget, part of the White House, that must approve all regulations.

Some of these reviewers are other people in the agency, some may be in other agencies. Many of them I've never heard of, and they've never heard of me; some likely know little to anything about the subject the're reviewing.

It's easy to chalk this up just to bureaucracy, and it's also easy to chafe at the delay it causes. But I have come to appreciate the fact that something I do might have an unexpected impact on something that others in the Federal government are doing, and that of course I know nothing about. So we understand why the process is needed. And when we can, we plan our work with a timeline that takes account of the additional time that will be needed. And the system works pretty well. Which doesn't mean we can't grumble a bit now and then.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Traveling south

With apologies to Tony Hurwitz and Sarah Vowell . . .

We went down to Fredericksburg on Saturday. There's some colonial history, George Washington's mother was born there, and his boyhood home, Ferry Farm, is nearby. And beautiful homes, some ante, most postbellum. Apart from some cute shops, for tourists its' mostly The War Between the States.

We had Zorro with us, and folks down there sure love dogs, so we got lots of smiles and he was much admired and petted. One gentleman came over and ended up with Zorro licking his whole face (as he will do, if you let him), after he left Liz said that at first she thought he was speaking another language, but no, it was just the combination of a drawl and maybe a few less than a full complement of teeth. Nice fella.

So we walked around the town, did some window shopping and spent just enough time retracing the battles of Fredericksburg (December 1862, Confederate victory, due mainly to bureaucratic hangups that delayed the arrival of pontoon bridges needed to cross the Rappahannock--I guess the federal government hasn't changed all that much) and Chancellorsville (May 1863, Confederate victory, due mainly to "Fighting Joe" Hooker's failure to live up to his nickname; known best as the battle in which Stonewall Jackson fell to friendly fire). We left the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse (Grant v. Lee in 1864, bloody but inconclusive) for another day. The National Park Service does a good job of helping you to imagine what it must have been like to fight over that ground, where so many gave their last true measure of devotion or were maimed for live. There's a genuine Confederate uniform with the leg cut off due to the amputation the man who wore it endured.

All very interesting and noble, but I can't help but wonder why one of the main roads is called the Jefferson Davis Highway, and why the Park Service memorializes Lee and Jackson, both of whom went to West Point, wore the uniform of the United States and fought for their country before raising arms against it. The guy who leaked information to Wikileaks is called a traitor, some are calling for him to be executed, and he will undoubtedly spend some years in prison. Somehow I don't think they'll be naming state highways after him. So why do we have statues honoring Confederate generals? Why wasn't Lee taken out and shot as a traitor?

Liz says that this reconciliation is part of what preserved the Union and is a testament to America's strength. But didn't it also help preserve a Jim Crow way of life that persisted into the 1960s? Maybe a little more shock and awe after the Civil War was over would have been a good thing. Of course I know my history, Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson became President and radical reconstruction came to an end. But that still doesn't explain why we continue to glorify a society that was built on the idea that one person can own another. I'm not sure why my tax dollars are going to honor those who fought to continue that barbarism and cruelty.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

My wife Liz has the most wonderful laugh. When something strikes her as really funny -- and you never can be quite sure why or when that will be -- she loses control completely. Her eyes close, she whoops, she screams, she roars. One of my favorite things is to render her helpless in that way.

She has recently taken laughter to another level, as a certified laughter yoga leader. Check out, it's good for you.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Title, New Duties, redux

I posted here a week ago about my new position as Acting Director, Oversight, in the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) within the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Servics (CMS). I took the post down because I heard some mindless chatter that some folks out there--you know who you are, I don't--thought I'd jumped the gun because they hadnt seen a press release from CMS announcing my appointment. As if. For the record, there has been and there will be no press release about this--I am not all that (yet, anyway). And of course I had approval from the right people to share the news, as it was official and all the people who needed to know had been informed. 'Nuff said.

I've been in the job just short of two weeks and things are going just great. There's a lt going on and quite a few plates to keep spinning on those long sticks, but I wouldn't have it any other way. This is what I came to Washington to do; I'm happy and grateful that I'm having the chance to do it.

If you go to our new website,, you can see lots of info about what we do. One day we may have an organization chart on there, but for now I can tell you that there are four Offices below the level of Center Director. The website describes our duties this way:

The Office of Oversight
This office will implement, monitor compliance with, and enforce the new rules governing the insurance market and the new rules regarding medical loss ratios. It will also be responsible for rate review at the federal level, and for providing rate review grants to states.

So that's what we're going to do.

Friday, January 14, 2011

More reorganization

My boss Steve Larsen, head of the Office of Oversight in OCIIO, announced this week that we are combining two divisions to create a Division of Compliance and Enforcement. You may already be wondering why in the world you should care about this piece of Tricia, and there is no particular reason other than the fact that I am the head of the Division, and now have about half of the staff in the Office of Oversight reporting up to me. So to the extent one measures success in a bureaucratic organization by an increase in span of control, this would be an indication of success.

There will be lots of changes in the days to come, which I will try to keep my faithful readers up to date on, to the extent I can speak publicly.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Beginning of a New Year of Change

I can make no comment on the accuracy of the story I have provided a link to on the right, although I will say that it is odd to assert that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has relinquished control over the office responsible for implementing health care reform by moving it into the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), since CMS is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

I will also say that I can now state without any fear of contradiction that I am a federal bureaucrat.