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The PJ Tatler

by
Bryan Preston

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October 8, 2013 - 8:01 am

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would have been fired by now if she worked for any non-government online start-up. Her Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for building Obamacare’s web portal, Healthcare.gov. While she can editorialize all she wants about how great that site is, the reality is that its first week has been marked by an embarrassing hash of mistakes according to USA Today.

President Obama’s chief technology adviser, Todd Park, blames the unexpectedly large numbers of people who flocked to Healthcare.gov and state websites. “Take away the volume and it works,” he told USA TODAY’s Tim Mullaney.

That’s like saying that except for the torrential rain, it’s a really nice day. Was Park not listening to the administration’s daily weather report predicting Obamacare’s popularity?

Park said the administration expected 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users. It got 250,000. Compare that with the similarly rocky debut seven years ago of exchanges to obtain Medicare drug coverage. The Bush administration projected 20,000 simultaneous users and built capacity for 150,000.

That’s the difference between competence and incompetence.

The too-much-demand excuse also is less than the full story. In addition to grossly underestimating demand, the administration and its contractors seem to have made mistakes in building the websites. The system for verifying consumer identity has had persistent problems, as have pull-down menus.

Nor were problems confined to the 36 state health exchanges run by the federal government. Sites run by 14 states and Washington, D.C., bogged down because they have to refer to federal databases to verify consumers’ identity.

The non-federal exchanges appear to vary widely in performance. Maryland’s highly touted site continued to generate a bewildering array of error messages on Monday, while a successful visit to the D.C. marketplace showed a profusion of plans at a wide range of prices — exactly what consumers have been led to expect.

Considering that officials had more than three years to prepare, it’s hard even to imagine a credible excuse. And if the Medicare Part D experience is any guide, new layers of problems await as people finally get through and engage the complexities of buying insurance.

How could this be? How could the Obama administration fail so badly to anticipate demand for the site? Why does Sebelius still have a job after this embarrassing roll-out?

One cannot make the argument that Obama doesn’t surround himself with people who get the Internet.

Obama’s administration is the same group of people who built the “Cave” to defeat Mitt Romney. The Cave took presidential campaigning out of its traditional realm:

It hired analysts from Silicon Valley rather than the Beltway, one of whom is a particle physicist. Their agile, outside-politics thinking helped build an efficient, ruthlessly data-driven machine that was able to correctly predict the behavior of millions of Americans and make real-time adjustments that produced votes. Or at least, that’s the story that the folks who built it are saying in the report. Victors always crow when they get to write their own history, but setting that aside, they did win a race that the issues, history and the chasm in experience and abilities between the two candidates suggested that they should have lost.

The Cave could and did predict human behavior down to an unprecedented granular level, and turned out the votes that Barack Obama needed to win a second term. Team Obama built that massively sophisticated team and system to win an election in just 18 months. But when it had three years to get the Obamacare portals built correctly, it flopped. Terribly.

Why?

It’s tempting to leap to the conclusion that as a leader, Barack Obama cares more about and is far more skilled at campaigning than at actually doing the job for which he campaigned. He’s the proverbial dog who actually catches the car — what does he do now?

Myra Adams wrote yesterday about Obama’s ambitions, and included this quote from the Lightworker himself.

“I’ve been very blessed,” Mr. Obama told the crowd assembled in March 2006. “Keynote speaker at the Democratic convention. The cover of Newsweek. My book made the best-seller list. I just won a Grammy for reading it on tape.

“Really, what else is there to do?” he said, his smile now broad. “Well, I guess I could pass a law or something.”

Well, he passed a law or something. Then across three years, he assembled a team that built a ramshackle web site that seems like a relic from the Internet’s earliest days — slow access, glitchfest, probable data robbery, the works. All that’s missing is one of those annoying animated “Under Construction” gifs that early web developers used to post.

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It’s baffling, purely from a technological perspective. Overstock.com can anticipate traffic and tweak its sales and server capacity at its needs demand. Amazon.com and Cafepress.com can spit out sales figures any time a seller wants them. Amazon supports online streaming video and even thousands of other web sites on its servers. Ebay.com can manage zillions of auctions on everything from homes and cars to video games and jewelry without any hiccups. It can also provide sales information in real time. Drudgereport.com can handle and sling massive traffic every day. Facebook claims it has 900 million users worldwide. It shocks Internet users when any of these sites goes down, and the reality is, they almost never do. Their managers know that downtime equals lost revenue and lost trust.

The Internet is not new anymore. It’s not some mysterious black box. Obama’s campaign hired some of the best and brightest to turn the Internet into a campaign weapon. How, then, can Healthcare.gov, which was built to support the law for which Barack Obama will be most remembered, be such a hot, steaming mess?

Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

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Top Rated Comments   
I strongly suspect the massive fail is due at least in part to the likelihood that rather than hiring experts in the field to handle the ACA rollout the bulk of the funding was bestowed on organizations loyal to the administration as reward for their support. Community organizers may be great at organizing communities but they tend to suck at creating web commerce apps.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (24)
All Comments   (24)
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Obama's digital systems were "So good" ?????

How hard can it be to set up a website that bypassed legal identification requirements so it could receive anonymous foreign laundered money and sign up dead people so bussed-in "voters" could cast several ballots?

The ACA is for real. Obama's digital world was/is corrupt but nobody cares. And Holder's ghastly coverup racket of a Justice department will never investigate his own operation.

Please, how could you call it "good"?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
as Debbie said I'm impressed that someone able to get paid $4020 in four weeks on the internet.. .......:>WWW.JOBS60.ℂOM
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
my neighbor's step-sister makes $87 every hour on the computer. She has been fired from work for 5 months but last month her pay check was $19995 just working on the computer for a few hours. Resources..... WWW.Rush64.COM
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
This one is such an easy answer it's hard to believe anybody is even asking it.

Is it because Obamacare's signature web presence is pulling together so many different elements, and is therefor more complicated than anything ever tried before? No, Amazon does far more every day.

Much simpler answer than that.

Obama's digital campaign was run by people who would be OUT OF WORK if they failed. Healthcare.Gov?? Yeah, right, who's going to be fired over this fiasco? Nobody.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Because with this administration it is all "sizzle" and no "steak." That's all it's ever taken to get low information voters all hot and bothered.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, it could be that the "Cave" was really just a legend and what OFA did and still is doing is mining NSA surveilance data to generate "fake but real" voters for a voter fraud scheme.

Outside the realm of the speculative, I've been a part of trying to build a couple of large government computerized systems. I think it is impossible to build anything useful using the methods governments usually use to design and build things. First, most everybody in government knows a lot about a little; government work is so incrementalized and proceduralized that almost nobody knows why they're doing something or the end product that they're a part of producing. Almost nobody knows how to describe the system they're seeking, they just know what they want for their little part of a system. So, when you use the usual method of gathering all the "stakeholders" together and trying to achieve a consensus on what you want, all you get is a parts collection, not a system design.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
First, the Obama campaign had a much smaller problem: How to motivate unlikely voters to vote for Obama in a few key states like Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. Both campaigns were able to totally ignore most of the states of the US except as a source of campaign funds. Second, the Obama campaign didn't have to comply with government contracting requirements and low-bidder blues. It could hire the best and focus on testing and refining programs instead of creating documents.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Has there ever been an IT project as complex as this? Not technically complex, but administratively. I'm doubtful. IT projects of even a fraction of this complexity usually end up in lawsuits and cancellations. The scary thing is that Conservatives thought it might work even reasonably well. It never could have, and people with any technical project management experience always knew this.

Look up the history on the Navy's Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) project. The complexity of trying to meet the goals of the contract nearly destroyed EDS, or you could say it did because it weakened them so they were anxious to sell the company (and did to HP).

It was hired to integrate a few hundred apps but it turned out the Navy didn't even know that it actually had thousands of apps in use. And the number of workstations involved was 160,000. That sounds small to the average person doesn't it? Well it isn't. 7 billion sounded like good money to begin with, but in the end they'd have been better off to walk away. Now HP has picked up the contract and it may ruin them, although they're doing a good job of ruining themselves anyway.

The population of the US is 5 times larger than Britain and much more widely dispersed. Why people thought a similar system could work here only shows how people have been persuaded by movies and tv to think that computers are so magical they can solve philosophical problems. Hey, they've got one so powerful now it can make square circles I hear. :)
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I concur. Integration of a complex system with many interdependencies becomes an N-body problem. Unless you ruthlessly compartmentalize the system small changes on any end of it can have cascading effects across the entire thing.

It gets real ugly real quick.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
No arrogant ass ever made anything great. If one will not acknowledge reality and learn to work with your feedback, instead of merely denying it, nothing ever gets done.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, this is what happens when you put a feminist activist and 24x7 abortion advocate, with no medical experience and only crappy skills as a lawyer in charge of your the nation's health and human services, and then expect them to actually get in the business of risk management and health care.

See, refusing to prosecute a Kermit Gosnel grade abortion hack is, like it or not, insufficient background to running the nation's health care systems, even if you implement fascism to accomplish it. (Yes, Obozo care is the very definition of fascism). However, it's plenty of experience, especially when armored with a golden uterus (teflon plated, aparently), to *destroy* a health care system that's so far functioned fairly well, despite previous attempts to socialize it to death.

We have the government we deserve. Cloward and Pliven would be beaming with pride!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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