No wonder the health care exchanges are entirely borked

Federal officials did not permit testing of the Obamacare healthcare.gov website or issue final system requirements until four to six days before its Oct. 1 launch, according to an individual with direct knowledge of the project.

You would be hoping for 4-6 months of testing such a system really.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, they seem to have violated every single one of the rules for best practice in software development.

So much for the technocrats being able to design technocratic solutions to societal problems, eh?

12 comments on “No wonder the health care exchanges are entirely borked

  1. “I wonder why the president did not have better technical advisers. He ran a huge risk with this,” the former contract employee said.”

    The people who get to run (from the business side) say, the rewrite of a computer system for a telco, are the people who have years of experience of deploying ever greater software deployments. I know the programme managers at 3 large companies and they’ve been doing it for 20+ years.

    And former community organisers, lawyers, trade unionists, PR men, wonks, teachers and authors who make up about 99% of the people running governments know jack shit about that.

    4-6 days? Whoever made that decision should be fired. Not disciplined, fired. That’s the UAT time for a reasonably high profile bit of brochureware, or for the website/booking system for a country house hotel and spa.

  2. Putting on our Courageous Statist hat, the solution to these sorts of issues is easy:

    More government spending/intervention, not less!

  3. 4-6 days of testing is one thing, fixing the 21,557 bugs raised during testing in under a week is a lite unrealistic.

    Still, I suppose someone said “Yes we can!” when the question was raised, and that was that.

  4. @ Rob et al
    Depends on how big the *NEW* bits of the programme are. If you are just cobbling together twenty chunks of programme *in the same language* and adding half-a-doxen lines of code then 4-6 days is generous. If you have a team of half-educated Americans writing twenty thousand lines of code and adding it to chunks written in seven different languages that is “a whole new ball-game”.
    Last (and only) time I had to translate a programme to work on a new computer I made no errors: in those days computers cost than programmers, so we checked out work before testing); but there was a problem I could not solve. After I went back to college I got a letter from my mentor saying that she had discovered what the problem was, made a temporary fix, and persuaded the manufacturers of the new computer to correct the error in their Algol compiler (translator), which had assumed that zero was an integer and no-one would use zero as a real number as I had.

  5. JuliaM – indeed, it happens so frequently in government IT contracts that it’s probably a feature, not a bug. The same companies that botch the development of these things make a fortune charging to fix their mistakes.

  6. The problem here, as in so many other things, is that reality has been subordinated to political considerations. This manifests itself in a number of ways in this particular case but the underlying cause is the same. Firstly, it is possible that as written the law is simply not capturable in software. It is surprisingly easy to design a set of constraints that cannot be simultaneously satisfied, and very, very difficult to detect this (it’s a hard problem in computer science.) Then there is the delay in issuing specifications in order to push them past elections where they night have been used as an issue to attack the project. If your date for delivery of specs slips but your due date does not then it necessarily puts the project at risk. Then there was the decision to use in-house assets to build portions of the system out of a fear that outside contractors could have been subpoenad by the Republicans, So out of a fear of having dirty laundry aired in public, sub-standard people were given the job if building this thing. Unlike most shopping cart applications, prices were not shown up front lest sticker shock cause people to run away in horror. Imagine going to Amazon and having to create an account before it what show you price of the things it was selling. So the largest portion of data processing in the system was right up front instead of deferred till the end of the process.

    The list goes on. This is a complex application, but no more so than any medium-sized e-commerce site. It’s basically a shopping cart tied to a CMS, and we know how to do those. The $600 million price tag is simply incomprehensible.

  7. For those who haven’t seen it, this diagram, (scroll down), explains a lot about the implementation of Obamacare.

    And gives weight to those who claim the whole thing was designed to fail and be replaced by a single payer NHS type system.

  8. Looks like deliberate sabotage.

    Because anybody who has built a system with this level of complexity (see below) knows you need at least a year of testing after Beta tests prove basic functionality, covering full functionality, error handling, scalability (ability to handle load), and system & data security. The only way to do that would have been to start with a pilot project – say one county in Virginia – then progressively roll it out.

    Complexity: The system has to support hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users, 200+ million customers, integrate with the (disparate) systems of scores of private healthcare providers, implement a newly-written law that incorporates a host of exceptions, and provide military-grade security for the personal healthcare information it manages.

    Sabotage is unsurprising with ~70% of the nation opposing Obamacare, and the Feds should have anticipated it.

  9. “Looks like deliberate sabotage.”

    There is a theory that the whole Obamacare thing is intended to fail, in order to make Americans so desperate for a solution that single payer healthcare becomes a palatable solution.

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