There's something I don't understand about the rollout of Healthcare.gov: that President Obama expressed unqualified confidence about it shortly before it was launched.
Here's what he said:
OK. On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working as—the way it was supposed to. Has I been informed, I wouldn't be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great. You know, I'm accused of a lot of things, but I don't think I'm stupid enough to go around saying, this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the website opens, if I thought that it wasn't going to work.
So, clearly, we and I did not have enough awareness about the problems in the website. Even a week into it, the thinking was that these were some glitches that would be fixed with patches, as opposed to some broader systemic problems that took much longer to fix and we're still working on them.
So you know, that doesn't excuse the fact that they just don't work, but I think it's fair to say, no, Major, we—we would not have rolled out something knowing very well that it wasn't going to work the way it was supposed to, given all the scrutiny that we knew was going to be on—on the website.
You know what? That reasoning probably sounded persuasive to most people listening. It would be stupid to tout something knowing it's about to be proven not to work. And for good reason, no one thinks that Barack Obama is a stupid man. If he knew the website would fail, his actions wouldn't seem to make any sense.
There's just one problem: The idea that he didn't know it would fail doesn't seem to make any sense either. The New York Times just published a deep dive on what went wrong. Here are some excerpts:
- "Vital components were never secured, including sufficient access to a data center to prevent the website from crashing. A backup system that could go live if it did crash was not created, a weakness the administration has never disclosed. And the architecture of the system that interacts with the data center where information is stored is so poorly configured that it must be redesigned, a process that experts said typically takes months."
- "An initial assessment identified more than 600 hardware and software defects—'the longest list anybody had ever seen,' one person involved with the project said."
- "When the realization of impending disaster finally hit government officials at the Aug. 27 meeting—just 34 days before the site went live—they threw out nearly 30 requirements, including the Spanish-language version of the site and a payment system for insurers to receive government subsidies for the policies they sold. Even then, the system failed a test of only 500 simulated users in late September. Panicked, agency officials sent out an urgent order to almost double the system’s data capacity, technicians involved in the project have now confirmed. But the site was still down more than half the time in mid-October."
- "In the last week of September, the disastrous results of the project’s inept management and execution were becoming fully apparent. The agency pressed CGI to explain why a performance test showed that the site could not handle more than 500 simultaneous users. The response once again exhibited the blame-shifting that had plagued the project for months."