Did Pollyanna Design HealthCare.gov?

A remarkable story in the Washington Post about the behind-the-scenes turmoil at CMS in the weeks leading up to the launch of HealthCare.gov.

It seems incredible, but the main contractor on the project -- CGI Federal -- was so overly optimistic about progress being made in constructing the site that they were able to snow CMS officials and make them think that things were going a lot more smoothly than they actually were.

At a meeting in Baltimore just five weeks before the rollout, administration officials nervously questioned CGI executives about what was really happening. Let's just say that CGI's presentation wasn't entirely accurate:

For that day and the next, CGI staff huddled with government officials in the semicircular conference room at the headquarters of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency overseeing the project. They combed through 15 pages of spreadsheets they had brought, which spelled out the company’s level of confidence — high, medium or low — that individual components would be ready.

By the time HealthCare.gov launched 51/2 weeks later, many of those predictions proved wrong, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post and officials familiar with the project.

A final “pre-flight checklist” before the Web site’s Oct. 1 opening, compiled a week before by CMS, shows that 41 of 91 separate functions that CGI was responsible for finishing by the launch were still not working.

And a spreadsheet produced by CGI, dated the day of the launch, shows that the company acknowledged about 30 defects on features scheduled to have been working already, including five that it classified as “critical.” For instance, one critical defect was that people who had finished creating applications — an early step in enrolling — got incorrect messages that their applications were incomplete if they tried to sign back in.

All told, of the 45 items in which CGI had expressed high confidence at the late August meeting in Baltimore, most were still not ready by the time consumers were supposed to be able to start to buy health plans online through the federal marketplace, according to a government official familiar with the project who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private information.

During those crucial final weeks before the marketplace opened, the official said, CGI often delivered components on time, but they contained such faulty computer code that features did not hold up under closer scrutiny — or failed later if more than several thousand people at a time tried to use them. These included essential but arcane parts of the Web site, as well as facets that have attracted substantial public and congressional attention, such as a feature — still not working — that was supposed to let insurance-seekers browse the health plans available to them without first registering for an online account.

It was either Pollyanna or Mata Hari who was in on the construction of this clown-car screw-up of a website. Such a level of incompetence is rare, even for government work. Imagine a similar method of construction being applied to an F-15. We'd wonder if the contractor was actually working for the enemy.