Oct 10 2013

ObamaCare’s ObamaCrash Not A Surprise – Start Over

Published by at 8:49 am under All General Discussions,Obamacare

Final Update: OK, this left a mark:

Regardless of the variety of places to hear whatever facts and justification align with how you feel about the program, it is undeniable that this launch has been an incredible technical failure.  Straight up – an absolute failure. …

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is about as ugly any kind of site deployment gets.

In the words of our twin teenage daughters Epoch Fail!

Hopefully this is not a harbinger of things to come, but many have predicted that to be the case.

So now is everyone ready for these clowns be in charge of your health and well being? – end update

While I am not surprised the Obamacare roll out is glitch-full disaster, I am a bit surprised at the depth of the train wreck.

The problem here is well known to folks like us who are high tech government contractors, and who have been in this role for a quarter century now. I have worked on some of this nation’s largest DoD and NASA programs. Technological wonders in their own right (I will let one out of the bag – the International Space Station). I want folks to let that sink in for a bit – a quarter century tackling some of the largest, most complex technical challenges this nation has attempted. Some never got off the drawing board (e.g., President Reagan’s Star Wars), but they all required a very large and talented team on both the contractor and government side.

The ISS is a great example of what I mean, because ISS was originally called Space Station Freedom, but program management structural issues created a nightmare of independent fiefdoms at each NASA center. The program was doomed to fail and ground to a halt – it was thankfully cancelled. Out of the ashes came ISS, which was technically the same basic architecture but with major fixes for persistent issues that were unable to be resolved during the Space Station Freedom days. They had to clean out the managers to fix the program.

So, how does a Space Station relate to the Obamacare roll out? In may ways formulating, designing, building and launching a Space Station is much, much more complicated and challenging. Yet we have one on orbit now. And everyone probably realizes that launching a larch scale website has its challenges. But that has been done many, many times now. This should not be rocket science.

But apparently for Team ObamaCare, it was:

The reason for this nationwide headache apparently stems from poorly written code, which buckled under the heavy influx of traffic that its engineers and administrators should have seen coming. But the fact that Healthcare.gov can’t do the one job it was built to do isn’t the most infuriating part of this debacle – it’s that we, the taxpayers, seem to have forked up more than $634 millionof the federal purse to build the digital equivalent of a rock.

The company originally won the contractback in 2011, but at that time, the cost was expected to run “up to” $93.7 million – still a chunk of change, but nothing near where it ended up.

Facebook, which received its first investment in June 2004, operated for a full six years before surpassing the $600 million mark in June 2010. Twitter, created in 2006, managed to get by with only $360.17 million in total funding until a $400 million boost in 2011. Instagram ginned up just $57.5 million in funding before Facebook bought it for (a staggering) $1 billion last year. And LinkedIn and Spotify, meanwhile, have only raised, respectively, $200 million and $288 million.

So what we see in all this is that private industry is more efficient, productive and successful than government run programs of the same size and scope.

Color me totally unsurprised.

I predicted back in 2009 The Democrat’s Stimulus BS would crash and burn, because of the inherent structural barriers in government programs that make them slow, expensive and ultimately incompetent:

The big Democrat mistake was, at its core, believing naive socialist theories that government can out perform the private market. They gambled the government could create jobs faster than the economy could if it was unleashed by tax cuts. It seems Democrats are going to have learn that lesson the hard way, and we are the ones who will feel all the pain (which we will gladly reflect back in the voting booths come next year).

Here’s the problem. A third of this stimulus package money is stuck in the federal bureaucracy, and the tax refunds are just not doing anything ($13 a week?). The rest is aimed at the safety net money that only helps when you are so far gone financially you need to welfare. The government is stalled. It is just impossible to fathom the Democrats in Congress were ignorant of the snail’s pace of federal acquisition (especially outside the DoD, which due to its mission is nimble and well staffed). It was either historic incompetence or fraud on their part to claim the plan would impact the economy.

Basically, Team ObamaCare under estimated the challenges and greatly over estimated their skill base.

There are only a few departments or agencies that can roll out $100 million dollar technology programs – and even they are beginning to struggle as more and more paperwork and process is layered on them by Congress.  That is because an organization has to become very skilled in running these large, complex endeavors to succeed. If you try and jump from managing some health care technology to deploying a system like ObamaCare – you will fall on your face.

NASA, DoD and DoT have the necessary government infrastructure to accurately define, procure and monitor something like ObamaCare. They have this capability because the built up a contractor and civil servant base able to take on the challenge over many decades. HHS and other government entities usually do not.

When I dabble in space programs from other agencies outside DoD and NASA (who have the lion share of expertise), the level of skill and ability I find is very disturbing. For example, USGS and NOAA have satellite programs. But they launch one every five years in the best of times. That cadence is not enough to retain the expertise they need, let alone grow it. It is not their fault, but to be in shape to take on these challenges requires regular ‘exercise’. NASA and DoD get this exercise because their launch cadence is much higher (couple a year).  This is why they have built up a unique expertise base inside and outside government. And I have spent a quarter century clawing my up to the upper echelons of that pool of talent.

And that is why ObamaCare is crashing – and will not get right any time soon. When SSF was floundering (because Johnson Spaceflight Center did not have the experienced resources to take on such a challenge initially) the only solution was to kill the program and start over.  When NPOESS (a NOAA weather satellite program) fell 6 years behind in launching their first capability (the S-NPP Satellite), the only answer was to close down the program and give NASA a more central role in the procurement under the new program JPSS.

This ObamaCrash is really bad folks, on par with these other ‘restarts’:

The rollout of Obamacare has been so disastrous that even “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart was plainly mystified and unconvinced when Sebelius came on his show the other day to offer soothing explanations and reassurances. Stewart gently expressed his frustration that there is “a level of incompetence that is larger than what it should be,” …

Judging by the haphazard rollout — incomprehensible error messages have been the norm, and the federal website has had to be taken offline several times — you’d guess that this was a back-burner project for the Obama administration, or the start-date for the exchanges had been sprung on it a few weeks ago. Of course, it is the president’s most cherished initiative, and his team has had more than three years to get the exchanges up and running.

Given the train wreck we are seeing on the roll out, it is clear this one is not salvageable. You cannot rush patch something this bad. It looks to be a lot more than just the public facing web page, but includes some of the behind the curtain components that verify people’s identities, manages their account information, and produces health care coverage requests for insurers to process. With this many people banging on the system you will never work out the issues ‘on-line’.

Clearly the problems were known for weeks and months before the roll out. Also obvious is how Obama’s lackadaisical management team exposed their full incompetence.

As Wolf Blitzer noted, time to go back to the drawing board on this one.\

Update: Start over for no other reason that we should be buying state-of-the-art technology, not out-of-date crap at premium prices (which the government does ALL THE TIME – I know from first hand experience)

Yet increasingly, they are saying the root cause is not simply a matter of flawed computer code but rather the government’s habit of buying outdated, costly and buggy technology.

They say most government agencies have a shortage of technical staff and long have outsourced most jobs to big contractors that, while skilled in navigating a byzantine procurement system, are not on the cutting edge of developing user-friendly Web sites.

Yep, as I well know.

Update: CBS News interviewed someone in the field of website development – an ObamaCare supporter – who agrees with my assessment – take it down and redo it [H/T: Ace of Spades]:

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “ObamaCare’s ObamaCrash Not A Surprise – Start Over”

  1. patrioticduo says:

    While I would like to agree with you, I cannot. “NASA, DoD and DoT have the necessary government infrastructure to accurately define, procure and monitor something like ObamaCare.” Uh no, NASA builds highly specialized “small scale systems”. The ISS and shuttle and every other thing put into orbit is a bespoke design. DoD, doesn’t have to be efficient when all it has to is win. Again, bespoke designs. DoT, are you kidding me? It’s bleeding cash and always has, has never provided a decent service and is mired down by public sector unions and bureaucratic metastaticism. But these are all beside the primary problem with Obamacare which its intrusion into our personal economic freedom, our personal privacy freedom and our personal ethical freedoms. This whole media and Internet meme that the problem with Obamacare is just a technical one is a red herring from the Democrat/media complex to distract us from the real underlying problem with Obamacare – OUR FREEDOM.

  2. patrioticduo says:

    Notice how the web developer expert is a supporter of Obamacare? So the underlying message of the news piece is that Obamacare is still supported but it’s going through teething problems. This works well for the Democrats/Obama because they can now say that the problems are just “technical” and we just need to be patient while we iron them out but most people still support Obamacare (they don’t) so we shall keep Obamacare (even though most people before and now don’t want it). Oh and the establishment Republicans aren’t helping to take down Obamacare. Obviously, they are also in bed with big pharma, big health and big insurance.

  3. […] As I noted before – and now confirmed by reporting in the New York Times no less – Obamacare has more than just glitches, it is fatally broken. “These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’ ” […]

  4. […] be a fiasco – all the reporting confirms this. I posted previously on the state of ObamaCare here and here, and today the news keeps rolling in, pointing to MONTHS of bad news for the […]