Government Incompetence to Blame for ObamaCare Website's Failure

As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site


That sounds obvious, but a lot of the blame before this was going to the contractor.

Victory has a thousand fathers, but a website that crashes when you look at it is an orphan. Still the emerging consensus from the New York Times story is that much of the blame goes not to the CGI contractor, but to the government.

But first let's contrast two quotes.

For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in.


Dr. Donald M. Berwick, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010 and 2011, said the time and budgetary pressures were a constant worry. “The staff was heroic and dedicated, but we did not have enough money."

The Evil Republicans are naturally the villains who took away that nice Mr. Berwick's money and left him with only $400 million to blow on a website.

Oh the humanity.

The story does chronicle some of the ridiculous ways that CMS blew this.

* The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring

* As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site,, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.

* The Medicare and Medicaid agency assumed the role of project quarterback, responsible for making sure each separately designed database and piece of software worked with the others, instead of assigning that task to a lead contractor.

Anyone who has ever designed a website will find this scenario familiar.

1. The client doesn't know what he wants and is constantly asking for new and different things.

2. The client has little experience with the technology, but insists on taking the lead and then blaming the designer when his own ideas screw everything up.

Avik Roy at Forbes is making the argument that the website is crashing because it was designed to force users to sign up before they would be given prices for political reasons. 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.

Specifically they were afraid that Obama's base, which isn't all that bright, would freak out. And Obama Inc. is also obsessed with harvesting personal information.

That said, the website should have been able to handle even the signups, despite the messiness of the process. But then again it was apparently scaled to 50,000 concurrent users.

Obama Inc. insisted on prematurely pushing out the site to spite Republicans. Basically.

Mr. Chao’s superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services told him, in effect, that failure was not an option, according to people who have spoken with him. Nor was rolling out the system in stages or on a smaller scale, as companies like Google typically do so that problems can more easily and quietly be fixed. Former government officials say the White House, which was calling the shots, feared that any backtracking would further embolden Republican critics who were trying to repeal the health care law.

And they didn't consider that rolling out a broken website would provide even more ammo.

Worried about their reputations, contractors are now publicly distancing themselves from the troubled parts of the federally run project. Eric Gundersen, the president of Development Seed, emphasized that his company had built the home page of but had nothing to do with what happened after a user hit the “Apply Now” button.

Senior executives at Oracle, a subcontractor based in California that provided identity management software used in the registration process that has frustrated so many users, defended the company’s work. “Our software is running properly,” said Deborah Hellinger, Oracle’s vice president for corporate communications. The identical software has been widely used in complex systems, she said.

With 55 subcontractors, there's always a ton of blame to shift around. No one is responsible. But everyone is. But since CMS decided to handle integration, it's their fault.

Tags: Obamacare