The Website Glitches Right-Wingers Aren’t Railing About

Isaiah J. Poole

People are having problems logging into the website, pages appear to be frozen and the information users are typing into the site doesn’t appear to be getting to the right people or seems to disappear altogether.

But this isn’t yet another story about HealthCare.gov, the Affordable Care Act health exchange website. It’s about a completely private-sector site, the Common Application, being used by hundreds of colleges as a portal for submitting college admission forms.

While the nation has been fixated on the problems with HealthCare.gov, and as conservatives spin it as yet another example of how government can’t do anything right, especially under President Obama, this similar computer meltdown has been taking place largely off the radar of households who don’t have someone applying to a college that uses the system. And that’s bad. For what it says is that while the problems with HealthCare.gov are serious, there is nothing unique about them. And they certainly don’t ratify what conservatives believe about the inability of government to do things right.

The Washington Post is the latest media outlet to look into the problem with what’s often called the Common App, writing today that “software troubles and other technical difficulties have left students staring at frozen screens or led them to pay multiple fees for a single application. Others reported being shut out of their accounts entirely.”

The Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper this week reported that the Common App crashed shortly after it went live on August 1, creating problems for students applying early for the 2014 semester. Even after those crashes were addressed, the paper said, “Colleges have also had issues retrieving applicant documents and transcripts.”

While the University of Pennsylvania has opted not to allow the bugs to alter its imposition of a November 1 application deadline, the paper said, “technical issues have led many colleges to push their early decision and early-action deadlines back.”

The Common Application describes itself as a 35-year-old nonprofit membership organization, started by 15 colleges that wanted to offer a common admissions application. There is no federal government involvement above the regulatory requirements that would govern the college admissions process.

Remember the Common Application problems when you hear a conservative politician get on cable news and say something to the effect that if such-and-such an e-commerce site has no problem selling widgets, why can’t the federal government manage a health care exchange site. (Perhaps it’s because e-commerce sites don’t have to connect with a variety of federal agencies, comply with a complex set of regulatory mandates dictated by Congress and connect with hundreds of insurance vendors – all while an entire political party is rooting for the whole enterprise to fail.)

Typical of the empty-headedness coming from conservative pundits, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air wrote today that perhaps “we shouldn’t have the government involved in brokering private-sector transactions at all,” asserting that “the federal government has proven itself incompetent in running this kind of private-sector activity.”

No one that I am aware of is suggesting that because of the problems with the Common App that the private sector has proven itself incompetent in running the private-sector activity of helping college students apply to multiple colleges. That’s because we wisely don’t try to turn every private enterprise failure into a broad ideological indictment of the private sector.

Likewise, conservatives should not be allowed to blithely use the HealthCare.gov problems as a broad ideological indictment of government, and as an excuse to tear down our main bridge toward affordable health care for all.

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