If the HealthCare.gov site cannot be fixed by the end of November, Leon Panetta said President Obama "may very well have to accept some changes in order to make sure that we can continue to implement it."
Panetta, a former Congressman and top aide to President Clinton, ran both the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department during Mr. Obama's administration. He said that even though speedy repairs will be tough, the administration doesn't need to take down the federal website where consumers can shop for and purchase health insurance, but that they should be able to fix the system while it is live - and should have fixed it before the launch.
"You cannot rely on the bureaucracies to do this kind of work. They're good people, they're dedicated, but very frankly, they're not the ones that really have the capability to in fact get this done," Panetta said. "I would drive this out of the White House. I would have an ongoing task force, I'd have one person in charge of it, and I would meet every day to make sure that they're getting this straight, because I think the president's trust on this program is really going to be dependent on his ability to fix it."
Panetta praised the president forand apologizing for them, and said it was important that he to people who were being dropped from their insurance plans despite claims they could keep them. But he added that the administration should do "everything possible" to make sure the can get new ones for a reasonable premium.
Despite the raft of problems with the site, Panetta urged Mr. Obama not to get caught in "second-term blues." To secure his legacy, Mr. Obama will have to secure a larger deal on deficit reduction, improve the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, address climate change, and continue to exercise world leadership.
"You can't get caught in what I call 'second-term blues,' where you kind of sit back and hope that things are going to be okay. You've got to keep working at it," he said. "If he does, I think he could develop a hell of a legacy."
On the recent National Security Agency, Panetta defended the agency as simply carrying out the priorities established by the National Security Council.
"These are professionals who do a great job at gathering the kind of intelligence that's important to protecting this country," he said, contrasting it to missed intelligence on al Qaeda before 9/11. "These agencies don't go out and just gather intelligence on their own...They do it pursuant to what they're directed to do."
He also weighed in on the transfer of the drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department, saying that both agencies could have a role in using the technology.
"I think ultimately the more we can probably put into the military the better, because it's a much more open process. But there are always going to be the need for the kind of clandestine operation that the CIA and the CIA alone can operate," Panetta said. "I think we are best off if we can maintain both of those capabilities."