Too many hats, not enough rabbits: Why healthcare.gov failed

It’s old news now, but this interesting chart from the Oct. 24 Washington Post details in simple, non-technical terms why the Heathcare.gov website failed.

ObamaCare

Image: The Washington Post

The text, a sidebar to the main story, Full testing of HealthCare.gov began too late, contractors say, clearly explains why the website failed and how complicated its repair is likely to be.

Most interesting and revealing, however, are the accompanying comments from IT professionals about basic protocols and accepted practices that were violated. (Unfortunately, one person notes that many comments seem to have been deleted; perhaps WaPo wanted to keep the focus on the main story, which accrued more than 5,000 comments versus just 68 on this item.) In any case, one needn’t be a tech expert to understand:

>Who was the idiot that decided that shopping without sign in shouldn’t be allowed and why can’t it be turned on now?

The Administration wanted the policy price to include the verified Federal subsidy. They only way to do that is to obtain an applicant’s data up front. From a systems point of view, having developed IT systems for 30 years, this was a last minute requirement that threw a monkey wrench in the works, just weeks before it went live. Perhaps they system managers lacked the guts to tell the politicians “if we have to do that, the system will need 3 or 4 more months of development & testing”. What is likely, they were told to make that change and do it by October 1. You see, people that have ZERO experience developing systems can’t comprehend why on Earth such a tiny change would muck up the works.

It’s both fascinating and sad to see how, again and again, not only in IT but across many types of businesses, managers with no hands-on experience and no time in the trenches demand the absurd from their employees, refusing to hear or accept that their goals are ridiculous. And it’s amazing to see how often those employees, knowing full well how impossible those goals and timelines are, manage to work some magic and meet them anyway. That it didn’t happen in the case of healthcare.gov was probably not for a lack of trying. Sometimes there are just too many hats, and not enough rabbits to pull from them.



Categories: Computers, health care reform / Obamacare, Sci/Tech

10 replies

  1. Well said PT but, considering the partisan political struggle that spawned it, one could argue that the Heathcare.gov website was doomed from conception: Right wing cyber attacks on Healthcare.gov website confirmed.

    • I had read about the DDoS attacks and wondered why they weren’t more widely reported. But such attacks wouldn’t have kept a well-designed, thoroughly tested website down very long, as we’ve seen from past DDoS attacks on the likes of Yahoo, CNN, eBay, Dell, and Amazon. Healthcare.gov was crippled from within before it ever launched.

  2. Internal sabotage is also a possibility… sociology tells us that there are 5-10% of workers in every industry who are either actively or passively trying to bring that organization down.
    And there’a a lot of $$ on the anti-ACA side… enough to buy some souls in both low and high places. I haven’t seen any reports of this yet, however, so it’s speculation.

  3. Admittedly a biased link, but it’s still evidence of government gross incompetence.

    • I totally agree with the youngsters. The govt. should have hired a bunch of them in the first place. Not only is the government incompetent but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the firm they hired to do the job (CGI) is also incompetent.

  4. Arrrrrgghhhh! No business/major research institution would build a site this important that was so unstable, untested, unsuitable – and couldn’t handle extreme traffic.
    And no one with an ounce of sense would hire a company with a shaky reputation (even if they were college friends) to build on an old platform. They knew this company had worked dismally with previous federal projects, but handed this huge one to them anyway.
    There are some of the biggest merchant websites in the world built by techies here…might have been smart to hire them?
    All that money. All that time waste. All that potential for good opening experiences that would encourage others to try. All ruined. Really really hard to get people to come back after a bad experience.
    Great.
    Who needs conspiracy when gross incompetence is around?

    • Seems to be an excess of gross incompetence these days.

      Yep, my son keeps pointing to Amazon as an example of a hugely complex website that is constantly changing and yet never misses a beat. I agree with both of you. There were plenty of examples of competence and excellence to draw upon but once again the bureaucrats chose to act like bureaucrats.

"Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance." ~ Plato

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