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The Unhealthy State of Healthcare.gov

The Unhealthy State of Healthcare.gov

No one wants to take credit for Healthcare.gov -- least of all the contractors who created the problem-ridden site. As citizens struggle with using it, politicians, administrators and executives are scrambling to tell the story that implicates them the least. Agile programming would have eliminated many of the problems, said Infostructure Associates' Wayne Kernochan, due to its openness to change.

By Richard Adhikari
10/25/13 12:03 PM PT

Finger-pointing has erupted among contractors responsible for the Obama administration's troubled Healthcare.gov website.

CGI Federal, the subsidiary of Canadian firm CGI that was the lead contractor for the project, blamed another contractor, as well as the United States federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which it said directed and supervised its work.

The other contractor, QSSI, reportedly agreed that its enterprise identity management package, which let users create secure accounts, was initially overwhelmed by unexpectedly high traffic, but it claims it is now keeping up.

Other problems highlighted in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Energy and Commerce include scope creep and the fact that thousands of applications had to be entered manually, slowing down the site.

Too Many Cooks

Certainly, the large number of government agencies involved in the project muddled things, at the very least.

"It appears they wanted to spread the contract around, and there were too many subcontractors and management was inadequate," Rob Enderle, principal analyst, Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

"They needed one contractor of scale to execute this," he continued. "It looks like it was managed by someone who had no clue how to execute something at this scale."

CGI did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Let's Shoot the Messenger, Baby

What really appears to have got everyone's goat is that problems were spotted well ahead of the site's rollout Oct. 1 and brought up to the administration, which apparently steamrolled over the objectors.

"Previous testing revealed that [the project] had many easily breakable components, which did not have a recoverable process associated with the failures," Jeff Rauscher, director of solution design at Redwood Software, told TechNewsWorld.

Forget the Fingers - Just Automate

Some data had to be manually keyed in and, "with a project of this size, automation of the back end in terms of application integration could have possibly been helpful, allowing some of the processes required to be split up into smaller, more application-consumable pieces," Rauscher said.

That way, users could continue entering data without waiting for the current step to complete, and could be emailed to proceed to the next step or to correct their data.

"This may not have been the ideal approach from a customer-facing perspective, but at least users would not get the dreaded timeout issue," Rauscher pointed out.

The Government Elephant Needs to Dance

The project's contractors complained that U.S. government agencies repeatedly changed specs or asked for new features, but "changes at the last minute are frequent," Wayne Kernochan, president of Infostructure Associates, pointed out.

Agile programming would have eliminated many of the problems, he told TechNewsWorld.

"Agile tools build in constant feedback from a customer or customer representative," Kernochan remarked. "One principle of agile, more or less, is openness to change rather than adherence to a plan."

Politics Rules, OK

Politics is the motivation for going after CGI, because it's not a U.S. company, the Canadian press has alleged.

Politics is involved all right, but perhaps not quite in that way.

Several staff of the Assisted Housing Services Corp. of Ohio, the California Affordable Housing Initiatives, and the North Tampa Housing Development Corp., list themselves on LinkedIn as CGI employees, according to Wonkblog.

CGI Federal makes millions from handling the Section 8 low-income rental subsidies business, and former CGI executive Ben Ashmore has filed suit against it alleging it had planned an illegal end run around U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development restrictions.

Ashmore's lawyer, David Mair of Kaiser Saurborn & Mair, did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, the recent spate of calls from Republicans for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down were sparked by the decision of Milton Wolf, a second cousin of President Obama, to challenge Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas as a Tea Party candidate, The Daily Beast reported.


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