Healthcare.gov contractors pushing back but lying in the process

As we continue to watch the debacle of Healthcare.gov grind on we’re finally getting to hear from the people who were supposed to have rolled this website out. Some interesting data is coming to light but, as an IT professional, I have to take some serious issue with the statements being made by the contractors as they seek to cover their collective asses.

While Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is skipping the hearing in order to visit an ObamaCare call center in Phoenix, representatives from four contracting companies are expected to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They are acknowledging problems with the site, but according to prepared testimony also pointing a finger back at the Obama administration.

A top executive with CGI Federal, one of the contractors paid millions to create the ObamaCare website, said the Department of Health and Human Services "serves the important role of systems integrator or `quarterback’ on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance."

Senior Vice President Cheryl Campbell also said in her prepared remarks that “no amount of testing” could have prevented the site’s problem-plagued start.

First off, Kathleen Sebelius should be removed, period. This was done under her authority and, supposedly, under the responsibility of her office. She has failed, completely and obviously, to bring a system online that, while complex, isn’t something that’s new territory. This is well understood technology and there’s no excuse for how it’s been handled.

Secondly, the matter of the Obama Administration’s last-minute change to the architecture of the site wherein they required people to go through the account-creation process before even being allowed to view the available plans was absolutely a factor in this site’s disastrous deployment. According to Politico:

The Obama administration told contractors one month before HealthCare.gov went up to make consumers register before they see prices, according to information gathered by the House oversight committee.

Forbes backs that up and points out that the massive increase in required interactions with the site prior to getting any useful information only made the site’s architectural bottlenecks worse.

A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.

The last-minute directive from the Administration practically guaranteed this pig of a site was going to flop. There’s no denying that the contractor was given a requirement that directly impacted the deployment’s success. However, I take great issue with the comment from CGI’s VP Cheryl Campbell about the uselessness of testing. That’s a bald-faced lie. Testing in a real-world manner – in other words, by doing end-to-end testing, following the procedure as if one were actually a customer attempting to use the site – would have discovered the myriad coding errors that have come to light. (And how many have not come to light, I wonder?)

The latest news indicates that Obama is putting someone new in charge with the directive to get this thing fixed. Jeff Zients – an economist, which isn’t the skill set I would have brought to the project management of correcting a colossal rollout disaster like Healtcare.gov – says that the website will be fully operational by the end of November, a full 2 months past the required deadline. I have no idea how anyone could possibly expect to make that kind of commitment but that’s pretty much par for the Obamacare course.

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