Healthcare.gov sinks upon launch
From a technical point of view, the launch of the new health insurance exchange at Healthcare.gov has been declared a flop. In multiple instances, tasks as simple as logging a new user proved to overwhelm the system.
Why? Politicking played a role, to be sure, but much of the blame appears to lie with the antiquated bidding and award processes for Federal IT work.
A New York Times report, based on two dozen interviews, identifies political wrangling on both sides of the aisle that increased the challenge. The government shutdown was, of course, not helpful.
But Ars Technica's Sean Gallagher digs into other root causes that plague nearly all big government IT projects.
"Long procurement cycles for even minor government technology projects, the slow speed of approval to operate new technologies, and the vast installed base of systems that government IT managers have to deal with" all contribute, Gallagher writes. "But even the most fresh and creative minds might go numb at the scale, scope, and structure forced on government IT projects by the way the government buys and builds things in accordance with "the FAR"--Federal Acquisition Regulations."
Ars Technica further notes that the metrics applied to many large government projects are mismatched with business objectives.
On Buzzfeed, Alex Howard says the team that President Obama's re-election campaign technology was widely regarded as cutting-edge, and possibly a significant factor in the election's outcome. This stands in stark relief against the healthcare exchange work. Howard says most critical systems implementation work goes to private contractors, many of them "better at bidding on giant federal contracts than at building software."
The largest contractor on the project is CGI Federal, with a $94M slice of the budget, according to the New York Times. The Times says CGI has publicly indicated that it created the overall project framework, but that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (a federal agency) held responsibility for testing all the integrated components of the system.
Buzzfeed links to a post on the Department of Better Technology blog which states that "In order to get the work done, the Department of Health and Human Services used an existing contract it already had with CGI Federal … The contract was, as they say, 'greased'."
The Fierce Take: It's painfully obvious that the toxic mix of politics and bureaucracy is due for not just reform, but complete disruption. If you only read one of the linked articles, go with Buzzfeed.
More about project failures and government IT:
All the government you pay for: what happens to IT during the shutdown?
How to ensure that all IT requests are loaded up with unnecessary functions
15 ways IT projects fail