Obama: “I'm holding every cabinet member accountable"

Chris Matthews talks with President Obama during an appearance on MSNBC'S "Hardball with Chris Matthews" at American University December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. 
Pool, Getty Images

President Obama on Thursday defended his management style in the wake of the disastrous HealthCare.gov rollout, arguing that the problems with government stem from larger structural issues rather than his White House.

“First of all, I think it's important to distinguish between this particular project, this health care project, where it is obvious that we needed additional controls in place, because it didn't deliver on time the way we wanted,” Mr. Obama said in an interview at with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, “and how we've managed incredibly complex problems for the last five years, everything from wars to pandemics to, you know, natural disasters to expanding student loans for young people.”

The president added, “I'm holding every cabinet member accountable.  And I want to have strong interactions with them directly.” Furthermore, he said, “I have an open door policy, where I want people to be bringin' me bad news, on time, so that we can fix things.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks come after his acknowledgement last month that he wasn’t aware of HealthCare.gov’s major problems until after the Obamacare website launched in October.

“The challenge, I think, that we have going forward is not so much my personal management style or particular issues around White House organization,” the president told Matthews. “It actually has to do with what I referred to earlier, which is we have these big agencies, some of which are outdated, some of which are not designed properly.”

Mr. Obama has tasked the executive branch with streamlining its functions and reducing it bureaucracy. He pointed out Thursday that there are 16 different agencies that help businesses, which can be difficult for a small businessperson to navigate.

The president added that while “everybody’s outraged” over government shortcomings, such as the inappropriate political targeting by the IRS, no one hears about the agencies running smoothly, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Mr. Obama also defended the National Security Agency, saying it “actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people's emails, not listening to their-- the contents of their phone calls.” Still, he said, “people, rightly, are sensitive to the needs to preserve their privacy and to remain internet freedom.”

Matthews asked the president to “compare and contrast” the qualities of Vice President Joe Biden, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Not a chance am I goin' there,” Mr. Obama laughed, saying they both “would make outstanding presidents.”

“I think Joe Biden will go down in history as one of the best vice presidents ever.  And he has been with me, at my side, in every tough decision that I've made from going after bin Laden to dealing with the health care issues to, you name it, he's been there,” he said. “Hillary, I think will go down in history as one of the finest secretaries of state we've ever had.  And helped to transition us away from a deep hole that we were in when I first came into office around the world.  And to rebuild confidence and trust in the United States.”