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Healthcare.gov has had a well documented poor initial rollout.  Much of the discussion around it has tried to identify a technical problem as the source of the issue.  Whatever technical failures are present, however, were almost certainly the result of the outsourcing of this work.

Slate has an interesting look at what went wrong with HealthCare.gov

Finkel described the data hub as the master switchboard for the entire sign-up and registration process. By integrating with “external information sources, such as government databases,” it would 1) verify a consumer’s data, including citizenship and identity, and 2) issue queries to these various databases as needed to “verify applicant information data [and] determine eligibility for qualified health plans.” The data hub did not have any of this information itself, nor did users use it directly. Rather, the hub acted as the intermediary between the healthcare.gov website, where consumers would input their information, and a variety of other databases containing consumer and health insurance information, coordinating between them. QSSI “developed” the data hub for CMS and was responsible for “ensuring proper system performance, including maintenance.”

The government has repeatedly claimed that various problems of healthcare.gov are due to server overload—too many people attempting to sign up. The data hub would certainly be ground zero for such load issues, but not the only one. If any of the other databases it spoke to were overloaded, the sign-up process would break anyway. The conundrum may not even be in the data hub or in healthcare.gov, but in some pre-existing citizenship database that’s never had to cope with the massive crush of queries from the hub.

The Slate writer quotes a federal contractor involved in creating the front end -- the web pages people see when they come to the site -- as blaming the procurement process:
Development Seed President Eric Gundersen oversaw the part of healthcare.gov that did survive last week: the static front-end Web pages that had nothing to do with the hub. Development Seed was only able to do the work after being hired by contractor Aquilent, who navigated the bureaucracy of government procurement. “If I were to bid on the whole project,” Gundersen told me, “I would need more lawyers and more proposal writers than actual engineers to build the project. Why would I make a company like that?”
The article wraps up with the remark that government procurement needs to be improved.  That is likely true, but it slightly misses the problem.  The problem is that this work was privatized to begin with.  That decisions almost guaranteed, by itself,that the web site would be a failure.

When a company gives work over to the another firm, it loses the ability to control that work.  Once a contract has been signed, the outsourcing company -- the government in this case -- loses control over the product or service.  The company providing the outsourced services have only to live up to the contract.  SLAs -- service level agreements, the items on which the provider are measured -- become king.  The performance of the provider is measured by their ability to adhere to the SLAs.  Making the situation worse, the providers are often allowed to largely set the conditions of acceptance and the SLAs themselves.

Most outsourcing is done via a process known as an RFP -- a request for proposal.  The response to these RFPs very often include a set of proposed SLAs and acceptance conditions.  In many, many cases, those initial suggestions form the basis for all negotiations.  Sometimes, the proposed terms are allowed to stand; the negotiations are mostly around the cost of the service.  Any monetary punishments are based on the conditions of acceptance and SLAs.

What this means in practice is that the IT management loses control of the IT outcomes.  The people providing the service are not responsible to the IT management.  Rather, they are responsible to their management, which care only about the SLAs. This is often compounded by the limited penalties for failure and the constant, ongoing negotiations about what an SLA "means" between the provider and senior management of the customer. Instead of having a tam dedicated to the success of your enterprise, you have a team dedicated to the success of the contract as measured by what their management says the SLAs mean.  Instead of people working toward success, you have people working toward a line in a contract.  This is made even worse when there are multiple vendors responsible for different systems or even aspects of the same system, as was apparently the case with Healthcare.gov.  Integration of systems can be a difficult process in the best of circumstances; it approaches impossible when the various systems are owned by different companies driven by contracts that have very clear and defined SLAs and acceptance conditions -- terms that very often have nothing to do with making the whole of the enterprise work effectively.

This is by no means a government only problem.  I have worked in in-house and outsourced environments throughout my career and have seen these issues in every outsource agreement I have ever been a part of.  One of the dirty secrets of outsourcing is that much of the cost savings come in the form of lower quality and in lost opportunities: the contracts provide a break on doing new work, because if the work is not defined in the contract, it requires extra payments.  There are several examles of outsourcing gone wrong and there is growing recognition that the costs are much higher than generally understood.  

Outsourcing is often defended not just on cost means, but also on the grounds that IT is not a "core competency" of the organization.  This is often the justification for outsourcing such functions of government.  This is almost entirely nonsense.  In the modern age, any organization that depends on customer service has IT as a core competency.  In the modern age, smooth access to information and the ability of the customer to easily complete tasks is central to any sense of satisfaction.  Leaving those items in the hands of people who aren't, by design, committed to the success of your organization.  Allowing people to sign up for health care is the core competency of heathcare.gov.  Outsourcing the tools that allow that to happen makes no sense.  And leads to the failures we have seen this week.

Originally posted to angryea on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 01:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What government? (12+ / 0-)

    So many functions of government have been  privatized already.  You've hit the nail on the head.  There are companies to oversee the companies doing the initial work - kinda hard to believe there are still 800,000 'less than essential' employees remaining to furlow.

    "This is the best bad idea we have by far..." ~Argo

    by MsGrin on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 01:45:54 PM PDT

  •  I've worked on govt IT projects... (23+ / 0-)

    ...and it has always baffled me why these things get outsourced. It is horribly inefficient and totally unnecessary.

    Pretty much everyone I've worked with on these projects know they are relatively short-term (a few years perhaps) and would be happy to work for the same salary and benefits that a private contractor offers but for the government instead.

    It is common on longer-term projects for the incumbent vendor to lose the contract and a new one come it. The same people continue doing the same job. All that changes is which pig has their snout in the government trough.

    •  True (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DaveinBremerton, Rogneid, patbahn
    •  A vast majority of managers, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wmspringer, Sunspots, Bensdad

      whether private or government, do not understand, nor are they willing to understand, how IT functions. Investing one's own money in a robust IT infrastructure, internally sourced, is simply beyond politician's (that's what managers typically are, government or no -- oftentimes even in IT!) comprehension and they do their best to distance themselves from managing it directly as to avoid any blame when things go awry.

      Still, I am absolutely amazed that the folks running healthcare.gov managed to get the system so completely screwed up. I've tried for over a week and haven't even been able to make it past the create an account page. If what you say is true,  it sounds like an incredible amount of over-engineering (and costs, I'm guessing) on the front end process is happening. All they should need is my name and S.S. number to verify that I'm an active member of society to get the ball rolling -- any other background employment and/or security types of checks could be done off-line and not impede the primary process of getting signed up. imo

      And, how long have they had to work on this? lordy...

      The art of listening is the ability to pay attention to that which is most difficult to hear

      by dRefractor on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 10:23:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Deloitte (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OleHippieChick, eru

      has been mismanaging IT projects and gouging the govt for years:

      http://www.bostonglobe.com/...

      I had to leave the IT environment altogether because so much of it left the country in order for many of these companies to increase their profit margins while charging the same or more for the work.

      "History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance." -James Madison

      by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 10:25:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I second that emotion on Deloitte. (0+ / 0-)

        What is amazing is that they still get hired based on their experience with the government! I think Washington State hired them for their exchange.

        If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

        by Bensdad on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 04:13:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  . (0+ / 0-)

          yep, I don't doubt it.  A friend of mine works for WA state and I hear about their non-functional IT systems all the time.  

          "History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance." -James Madison

          by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Sat Oct 19, 2013 at 12:06:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Keep in mind (8+ / 0-)

    That republican ideology for a looong time has been to privatize as quick as they can the whole or most of the government, all government, for corporate profit, which by the way certainly wouldn't be cheaper as they raise the capital to fund and reap through higher taxes and fees by the citizen class!!

    Think of the rapid build of the private merk army and beholden to no one, nor laws, but them!!

    "If military action is worth our troops' blood, it should be worth our treasure, too; not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

    by jimstaro on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 02:38:39 PM PDT

  •  I think you have something here (16+ / 0-)

    but we have different ideas about the root cause.

    Privatization of government function - bad idea.

    Paying a company to build healthcare.gov - could have been a good idea, as long as it was properly managed.

    Who'd a thunk that it wasn't as simple as handing the job over to ACME Software Systems and letting them go their own way?

    Fact: most every software and/or consulting company outsources massive amounts of software work to "cheap" places (country-names are unimportant here). What's important is that it's the same bullshit everywhere: layers upon layers of "executives" who know nothing about software design or implementation sucking down high 6-figure salaries and turning a blind eye to everything that goes on in Dewey, Cheatam and Howe's offshore Elbonian development center.

    This, ladies and gentlemen is the much-vaunted free-enterprise system at work. Private enterprise offshores most of the work to places base on per-hour cheapness.

    Is it crap software because it's done not-in-America? No - it's crap software because the people who implemented it have no freaking idea how to design and build large-scale software. A system that's supposed t deal with hundreds of thousands of simultaneous registration requests isn't something that happens easily - it takes skills that that are present in less than 1% of so-called software engineers - and people with that level of skill are expensive no matter what country they're in.

    Had the negotiated with Google, Yahoo, Amazon to have this designed and its construction/testing managed by the best of the best, this would not have happened.

    Dig deep enough and you'll find that this was contracted to some organization without a track-record of successfully building 100k+ simultaneous-user systems.

  •  This diary is very accurate... (8+ / 0-)

    But I think it misses a key point.  It isn't just the procurement process, it is the procurement leads.  They are incented and in some case obligated by law to take the lowest bid unless key criteria can't be met.  Its a race to the bottom.  And we have created it through this focus on deficit hawking.  Money has become more important than results.  ACA is partially a product of that.

    We need more focus on outcomes.  Until then, you get what you pay for.  And this is what we got.  Someone is going to make a killing fixing all of this.

    "Small Businesses Don't Build Levees" - Melissa Harris Perry

    by justmy2 on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 04:31:49 PM PDT

  •  Good article but... (10+ / 0-)

    You forgot the part about how any Federal Worker who tries to suggest ideas to get it working can be fired or go to jail for suggesting a change to the SLA if they don't go through the contracting officer.
    Yes, the person who knows how to fix it has to go through the lawyer to get approval to tell the person who controls the switch to fix it.
    It isn't as stupid as it sounds, but at the end of the day, contracts for the government don't save taxpayer money.

    The President has the power to delay funding of (for instance) military contracts until after the debt ceiling is lifted

    by computant on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 04:48:35 PM PDT

    •  I wasn't aware of this (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DaveinBremerton, Rogneid

      ..but its similar in the private sector, with being fired replacing being arrested.  If you operate outside the bounds of the contract, you can put your job at risk.

    •  Not true, The government lays out the requirements (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DaveinBremerton, Rogneid, hmi

      The COTR and COR all have the responsibility to get requirements from the users and/or representatives of the user community. Those requirements are reviewed with the contractors. Those that can be implemented and are in scope of the contract are agreed upon by both the contractor and government. Those items that cannot be implemented or are too high risk to be implemented are put in Change Requests files for future review and considerations.

      Lawyers are not ever involved in this process. Lawyers only get involved when there is disputes as to the requirements from the government and what was delivered to the government.

      Lawyers don't fix shit.

    •  Not true at all. (0+ / 0-)

      Fixing a problem does not necessitate a change to an SLA.  Successful contracts are where the vendor partners with the client, to develop clear, complete and testable requirements; produce workable designs; validate the implementations; and resolve problems.  And there are plenty of them, you usually don't hear about them in the papers.

      SLA changes typically require contract mods.  SLAs are Service Level Agreements that typically apply to operations.  The only SLAs that usually are applied to development relate to defect density.  But changes can be suggested by anyone, but they have to be agreed to by both parties.

      -9.00, -5.85
      Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.

      by Wintermute on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 08:02:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Gov't Contracting (0+ / 0-)

    It's amazing to me that the gov't refuses to demand excellence in their contractors. It's always been a crony system.

  •  Wow (0+ / 0-)

    Community spotlight! Thanks, guys.

    As for the details about government contracting, I haven't worked for the government, so I will bow to commentators superior knowledge.  I think the general point holds, though, even in light of the pecualarities of government work.

  •  Eh. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sharon, Satya1, Cordyc, OleHippieChick

    The government outsources lots of work, and most of it goes fine. Some of it does not. I work in tech and have been on the vendor side of this – the Slate column is so far the most plausible explanation.

    I thought this post would be about how privatized healthcare is the root of the problem. A simple, single-payer healthcare system wouldn't require a convoluted enrollment architecture.

  •  RFLMAO: Private enterprise could not deliver! (0+ / 0-)

    I am s-o-o-o sick of the right-wing yammering about "gubmint inefficiency" and private business superiority. Too bad the American taxpayers didn't get the smooth and fully functioning healthcare.gov enrollment portal we now discover we paid some fly-by-night private company to create on our government's behalf.


    "Until Justice rolls down like waters and Righteousness like a mighty stream" — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by vahana on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 05:11:34 PM PDT

    •  These were open-source "disruptor" guys (0+ / 0-)

      who likely have never thought of themselves as "private sector" but as "disruptors." The decision to build a platform with open source code and very little back end server capacity was the brainchild of "open government" types (especially Brian Sivak at HHS) within gov who likely had never had to built a massive consumer-facing website, and likely dismissed the capacity of their own workers.

      "I reject your reality and substitute my own." Savage.

      by cityvitalsigns on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 05:24:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Completely wrong. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Satya1, atana, vahana

        The static portion of Healthcare.gov was built using Jeckyll by the "Open Source Disruptor guys" and it has worked flawlessly.  The back end - everything behind and including the login page - was built by CGI Federal.  

        Economic Left/Right: -7.38
        Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.00
        Two steps to the right of Trotsky.

        by jvance on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 06:43:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Privatization Is a Loser (5+ / 0-)

    Outsourcing is always a loser. Whenever we outsource a government service, the citizens pay twice: once for the service and a second time for the profits.

    We should completely end the practice of outsourcing government services. If they have to pay for a pen, then they can procure it. But if it's a service, the government should do the work.

    Look at what's happened with prisons. Not only is it running up the costs, but it's distorting the laws passed because now they have lobbyists.

    And don't even get me started on Pentagon outsourcing.

  •  Key: Aren't by design, committed to the success (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OleHippieChick

    Were the contractors, designers, analysts, testers, and Project Managers really interested in ACA working or committed to set it on fire with them setting on the curb throwing the matches?

  •  I remember when the USAF depots were privatized (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    buddabelly, marina, OleHippieChick

    I'm talking about the aircraft and aircraft component maintenance depots.  When those depots were active duty, their capacity paced nicely with demand.  Privatization brought the annual operating cost down somewhat, but capacity dropped significantly.  To get increase capacity, a series of "contract field teams"--short term roving repair depots--were sprung up.  I'm curious what the financials would look like if the sum of the privatized depots and the contract field team costs were compared to the original active-duty operations.

    My knowledge comes from 25 years of military aircraft maintenance as an active duty mechanic, a maintenance supervisor, a quality assurance inspector, a contract field team project manager, and a civil servant specializing in coordinating work with the repair depots.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by DaveinBremerton on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 06:06:18 PM PDT

    •  My Dad commanded a jet-engine overhaul (3+ / 0-)

      operation at Wright-Patterson in the late fifties. He had both AF crews and civilian contractors doing the same work in separate facilities

      He told me that what he enjoyed most about that job is that his AF crew gave his an accurate baseline of time and expenses, which allowed him to catch the contractor padding his costs.

      “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
      he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

      by jjohnjj on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 08:12:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Privatizing has crippled the ability of government (3+ / 0-)

        to be the best it can be. I worked for the Forest Service for many years in wilderness management. Whatever activity we preformed, trail maintenance, firefighting, trash collection and removal, all of the in house work was done cheaper and better by government workers. And rehab of degraded lake shores, stream sides, springs, and meadows is just not possible by contract due to the intense record keeping resource monitoring and people management that is required.

        A recent study has shown that of 58 occupations that government has privatized the only one that was done cheaper by private contractors was grounds maintenance. Privatization provides less service for more tax dollars and kills the morale of government employees that truly regard the opportunity to serve the community and country as a patriotic duty. It degrades the ability of government to serve the public by reducing the workforce to contract managers with no hands on skills or institutional memory to pass on.

        Privatization is another con and it costs more and provides less than good government.

         

  •  It was obvious (8+ / 0-)

    From the minute I realized that one of the credit bureaus was responsible for blocking my identity verification, I knew that the whole signup system had been privatized.

    I was so furious when I finally got to the end of the signup process and then found out Experian was who they were using to verify identity.

    I had recent experience with Experian being unable to verify mine.  I was testing out a new docusign program at work so I could help our customers navigate it and I couldn't even get in myself because Experian blocked me.    I answered all their questions correctly and was then told I answered wrong.  Turned out they had my sister-in-law's information mixed in with mine. How the hell do you fight a system that is that lazy and irresponsible?

    And now, they've done it to me again.  One of the questions they asked to "verify" my identity obviously has incorrect information because I answered everything correctly.   It was very frustrating to get that far and then not be able to look at any of the insurance plans.  And who makes you verify your identity before you get to shop??  I'm thinking they just wanted to data mind all our info no matter whether we signed up or not.

    I actually got into the chat this morning.  The person I talked to couldn't answer my questions about difficulties with the verification procedure.  She was a very slow typist and did not seem to understand my questions very well.  Obviously, she is not a government employee, since she was at work.  So what corporation is supplying the people who are supposed to be helping?  I sense from the way she responded that they are probably not here in the US, so not only was the software design and the identity outsourced, but the chat help is as well.

    You know, when you stop and think about it, we've sold our souls to corporations.  You can't own anything anymore; you have to rent your books (Nook and Kindle) and rent your movies (Netflix) and pay for tv that has advertising when advertising was supposed to pay for broadcasting.  If we keep going the way we are, none of us 99 percenters are going to own anything and will be renting our entire lives out from the 1%.

  •  I'm willing to bet it was an overloaded Database (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OleHippieChick

    They had multiple data sources that they had to query plus their own data source to collect the information that the user inputs. Then the logic of matching user input to state and plans that are offered. On top of that basics like how the service ran under different browsers and operating systems should have been tested. For a time when Browsers were cut down to one or two choices by Microsoft, it was far less stressful to develop. Now that there is all kinds of new users plus mobile systems , developing again has reached new plateaus in complexity.

    There are all kinds of settings in database servers the least of which is allowing clustering of servers to off load when x users reach y simultaneous connections. Same with web servers. Having a fail over set-up is as routine as backing up these days.  

    The Govt IT person who oversaw all this had the responsibility of at least stress testing the build before signing off on it. I can easily imagine someone demoing how fast it was with a single user.

    Finally, there should have been acknowledged experts on high availability of services during large roll outs. They could have certainly gave gotten some top shelf engineers from Google etc et al to oversee the project.  

    I'm amazed that the inside IT people didn't make allowances for this. The claim that "we didn't know how popular it was going to be"...is wearing very thin. There are so many records of failed roll outs vs successful roll outs that the inside people bear as much responsibility for this as the outside people.

    As far as the private vs public argument, a private firm would never want it's name attached to a massive failure . It doesn't matter if they point the finger. People will always believe they couldn't handle the job which for something like this means far more than just coding. It's managing the different database administrators and other inside mangers who have a tendency to be more of an obstacle than a obstacle remover in these situations. People hate to share power.

    EGov.com has set up numerous websites that are complex and require multiple data sources all with transactional  capabilities. States are usually their only clients. EGOV right?

    If anyone would have known how to manage the code plus the relationships it would have been these guys. You wanna get someone who has been on even a heavier roll out than a State website. That's when you ask the CEOs of a few huge sites if you can borrow their top engineers to oversea the contracting.

    This was just as much a failure of Govt IT as it was the outside contractor. It was  totally unacceptable with the stakes that are in play and totally unnecessary.

    “ Success has a great tendency to conceal and throw a veil over the evil of men. ” — Demosthenes

    by Dburn on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 07:06:57 PM PDT

  •  In-house and out (0+ / 0-)

    The fact, if it is one, that outside contractors, proved incapable of getting things up and running, bears no logical relation to the suggestion that government employees would have been up to the job. Just as a reminder, it is not and has never been the case that government departments have some sterling track record for efficiency, for attracting top-notch technical talent, for accomplishing big IT projects on time and under budget, etc. In fact, it makes very good sense to hire temporary employees (i.e. private contractors) if you have government-employed managers capable of masterminding and supervising these projects. But it's clear that government doesn't even attract particularly strong managerial talent.

    •  Except when they leave govt (0+ / 0-)

      and go to work for Monsanto or Boeing or Exxon, you mean...?

      •  You mean (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marina

        that the private sector creams off IT talent from government (leaving the less-creamy behind)? I've heard little about government creaming off IT talent from the private sector, have you?

        •  I guess it depends (0+ / 0-)

          on a person's inclination to forgo personal gain for public service.
          We don't often hear about long-time public servants, but we do sometimes hear about those who take the revolving door for personal gain.

    •  Government can't have institutional skill and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OleHippieChick

      memory when it has downsized the workforce to contracting officers. No skilled workers... no skills, and no ability to cost compare or keep contractors honest.

      Outsourcing costs taxpayers more and provides them with less service in almost every instance. And reducing the federal agency workforce in the rural mountain west has brought back generational poverty to small and remote western communities. A problem that was effectively dealt with since Kennedy increased the federal agency workforce. This also got needed resource management done that is not profitable for the private sector.  

      Private contractors are more often than not bloodsucking tics on the backside of American taxpayers.  

  •  Healthcare.gov worked for me (0+ / 0-)

    Today I was able to log onto healthcare.gov, complete my application for family coverage for five (Virginia), and view the 31 available plans.  I was one of those "kicking the tires", as we are going to stay on my wife's health plan at her job, which is much cheaper.  Any any rate, the website worked without any problem for me today.

    I think the technical problems are being solved and that in a week or so, the website glitches will be largely forgotten, and everyone will move on to a discussion of the insurance issues, such as the very high cost for those who don't qualify for any subsidies.      

  •  Credit is a New Pre-existing Condition? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, Sunspots

    Some of us have asked whether bad credit will result in higher premiums like smoking does or even give insurers the ability to refuse insurance.  The answers have not been very definitive.  The problematic "Eligibility Engine" requires all sorts of personal information that is not at all part of signing up for Medicare.  Obama's 2014 budget has Means Testing for Medicare and one could guess it is likely the Eligibility Engine has been partly built to do that duty as well.This Blog Post has more discussion about the Florida Navigator's recent outburst and whether it was based on what she heard in her 39 hour Navigator training.  Please ask this question yourself and ask for what the answer given is based on.

  •  At least part of the problem was the concept (0+ / 0-)

    This looks like it was supposed to be a service oriented architecture.  Quality of service is a notorious problem when you have different systems exposing services that are to be choreographed into a coherent user experience.  As the Slate article noted, any one of those remote systems could have been the bottleneck, or any group of them.  

    There are other systems that do this kind of on-the-fly remote validation, and you have to have some elasticity built in there.  If you are making synchronous calls -- which a literal translation of the workflow model would probably call for -- then you run the risk of process threads hanging, and eventually piling up to the point where the application server fails.  Ironically, a cloud model can expedite this failure by virtue of its scalability permitting even quicker saturation of remote systems.

    Sometimes a refactoring of the workflow model is required, so that some validations are performed after the fact instead of in real time.  People designing these things have the responsibility to state what is doable and what is not and what the risks are, but too often salespeople promise the moon.

    -9.00, -5.85
    Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.

    by Wintermute on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 07:44:44 PM PDT

  •  The various gov folks saying (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    splashoil, rschndr, marina, Sunspots, Clues

    "it works just fine unless it is overloaded" is simply a lie by omission.  They are failing to come clean about the incompetent job they did for capacity planning and testing.

    You determine the computing resources required and you find a plan to handle it.  Period.

    And why they put a registration process as a bottleneck before any users could even just examine the plans is hard to understand.  Whoever insisted on that design decision made another major error in judgment.

    By the way, outsourcing can work and work well if the company hiring the external talent has a project manager on it who is systems literate and has carefully constructed enough milestones in the project to let her or him know early on when there are problems.

    Outsourcing done wrong (85-90% of the time) is some Mr. Big-in-the-corner-office basically throwing it over the wall at some consultant without bothering to know the detailed requirements or how to assess the work's quality.

    I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

    by Satya1 on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 08:22:21 PM PDT

    •  Private Insurers don't give firm quotes until (0+ / 0-)

      they have your complete medical history. They'll give you a ballpark quote based on your age and zip code. (I had to go shopping when my COBRA ran out in June).

      The ACA has "leveled" much of the cost of health insurance, but I'm not surprised that the participating InsurCo's want the minimum actuarial data (age, sex, location) on you before they issue a quote.

      “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing
      he was never reasoned into” - Jonathan Swift

      by jjohnjj on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 08:23:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One does not need to design (0+ / 0-)

        a registration process in order for people to read policies based on 3-10 key pieces of life and demographic info the user can choose with drop down menus.  That is still essentially static data and doesn't involve complexities of registration.

        I'm not liberal. I'm actually just anti-evil, OK? - Elon James White

        by Satya1 on Mon Oct 14, 2013 at 01:13:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Working in WA- Join your neighbors. Sign up. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lurker123, OleHippieChick

    I just tried Healthcare.gov out and there is a handy work around at least in WA.  You click on your state and Healthcare.gov takes you to the state exchange site which is alive and well.  As far as I can see you don't need the US gov site to buy insurance here.  When you pick a company or plan you can also go directly to an agent or an ambassador and talk with them.  Easy peezy lemon squeezy.  

    So what are you waiting for?  I'm on Medicare so I don't qualify but if you do there are 11 companies offering plans here in WA that would love to talk with you about some inexpensive coverage.  

    A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

    by YellerDog on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 08:46:07 PM PDT

    •  But Many States DO NOT have Exchanges (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      splashoil

      And residents of those states must go through the federal website.

    •  WA Plans are "Skinny, Narrow, Crappy." (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marina, Sunspots

      Only average 75% of providers available in plans not in the exchange.  Major hospitals excluded from most plans.  Scant specialty providers could force you to get OON (out of network) care with no limits on your costs.  (Unregulated OON balance billing). Be careful what you pay for and ask if your doctors and hospitals are included.  No cancer treatment available in plans.  Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Children's Hospital Not Included!
      I'll add link to study on these narrow plans later.

      •  Link re: "Skinny Plans" (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marina, Sunspots, maracucho

        How Narrow Networks affect Doctor Specialties

        Lambert here. Most coverage of ObamaCare (ACA) policies available through the Exchanges, especially Democratic-friendly coverage, has focused on the price of policies, rather than their value. This post focuses on value, and shows why the distinction between “in-network” and “out-of-network” coverage is important. At least in the case tested here, insurance companies are shown to “narrow” their networks, and hence the coverage available to their policyholders, to exclude specialties like oncology, cardiology, internal medicine, and neurology.

        By Dromaius, who blogs at Corrente. Originally published at Corrente.

        As we venture into the world of narrow health care provider networks, I thought I would take some time to study what they really mean, in terms of how the new networks might affect patients’ access to specialty care services. To do this, I compared the current landscape of provider networks with those that will be available on the Exchanges. I used Washington State as a case study. Your mileage may vary, but you will very likely find similar information by querying insurance providers in your state, given that the narrow networks on the Exchange plans are a nationwide paradigm change.

        This is the biggest bork.  
  •  Yep. Work to contract = crap code (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    splashoil, marina, Sunspots

    I worked for 2 years on the Alaska Unemployment Insurance System, doing nothing but fixing bugs in the code written by a contractor that was paid to create programs to generate a fixed number of data entry & query screens & reports for the system.

    The very large SQL database was poorly designed, with too many spurious tables, and the code was nothing but crap.  In my first 6 weeks, I found and fixed a dozen bugs that improved online query performance by 1200%.

    The contractor didn't care how fast the system ran as long as it ran at all.  The bureaucrats approving payment never asked the in-house IT folks to desk check the code or review the performance until the contractor had been paid and gone.

    The same contractor (Texas Instruments) had sold similar systems to other states.  They were just reusing bad code and getting  paid for it.

    Time for Medicare For All.  And I'm on Medicare.

    "Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die" --- Albert King

    by HarpboyAK on Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 08:47:36 PM PDT

  •  A Canadian newsource (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, Sunspots

    is reporting that CGI (referenced in the Slate piece) is a Canadian company.

    Blame it on Canada.

  •  United HealthCare -- a big-profit insurer - played (0+ / 0-)

    a huge role.

  •  What's the alternative? (0+ / 0-)

    Does the government have people on the payroll that could have feasibly added this to their workflow and done a better job?  If not, then what would you propose?  The government could hire those people, but then what does it do with those employees after healthcare.gov is done?  Keep them around for the next once-in-a-generation expansion of the welfare state?  Probably not.  Fire them after the project?  I guess maybe, but then how different is that than outsourcing the work in the first place?  

    •  everyone forgets about support (0+ / 0-)

      For some reason, it's never built into plans or budgets, and the idea that someone who was in on a project from day 1 might be better at upgrading and fixing it than a random warm body in a revolving chair...gee.

      They also always forget to pay support people what they're worth, mostly because they just wish the whole thing would go away.

  •  Internal "outsourcing," too (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clues

    The IT department at some point, in some places, became viewed as a sort of internal profit-making organization, and had to scramble for project-by-project money to support itself.

    So in that case, its interests aren't the same as the overall governmental interests - even internal IT will have to do the same things as those private contractors, specifying and minimizing what it has to do, and maximizing what it can charge for.

  •  it could have been done T&M (0+ / 0-)

    the govt writes no specs, just hires a firm to bring in
    a dev team, who work in a warehouse.

    everyone gets paid by the hour, and, it's much fuzzier
    in goals.

  •  Excellent point! Thanks. T'ed And R'ed. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OleHippieChick

    This should be a rec-list diary.

    Indeed, the myth that "privatization makes things cheaper and efficient" fails in the general case. There are exceptions to this rule, but they need to be carefully defined and monitor in order to bear fruit.

    Almost always, providing public services on virgin territory public agencies have to be the first. A private entity has no interest in seeing the big picture and pulling resources fast enough to make things work. It only has interest - as you stated it - in doing the minimum necessary to gets its contract $$.

  •  Contracting degrades quality. (0+ / 0-)

    I've seen this in the context of government contracts and in private companies outsourcing certain functions to other companies.  Maybe it has to do with contractors having less of a stake in the output, or less loyalty to the government/contracting company, or both, but it happens an awful lot.

  •  Google Deloitte Touche and Case Management (0+ / 0-)

    These contractors put all their energies into getting contracts and none into performing on them. They rarely receive any penalty for non-performance. And the idea that 50 states would execute on this perfectly (or even 16) was folly.

    I learned at close hand how government sabotages itself when it turns itself over to those who have no allegiance to government.

    These websites should have looked the same and worked the same with minor branding differences.

    It is October 12. 2013 and I still cannot get into the Hawaii Health Connector to compare the rates between the ONLY TWO insurers participating. Fortunately, a kind Kossack clued me in that I could just contact those companies directly. I have and now know what the rates are. It was not one stop shopping though.

    What I learned from watching outsourcing up close is that these companies have LEGIONS of lawyers and marketing guys who are very highly paid. And they have a few programmers who have been given an impossible task with an impossible deadline, the function of which has not been adequately explained to them. The latter are paid peanuts.

    If you hate government, don't run for office in that government.

    by Bensdad on Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 04:12:10 PM PDT

  •  This was not just privatization. It was mismanaged (0+ / 0-)

    Read this article from the  New York Times via NBC news.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/...

    Requirements for the project weren't ready nearly soon enough in part because of political decisions and poor planning. The whole thing was understaffed and under-resourced in part because the GOP blocked funds for the project and of course it was much larger than expected because so many Republican states chose to not do their own exchange.

    Political fear has clearly gotten in the way of the administration being honest with itself about how bad the situation was and caused it to ignore lots of warnings along the way.

    And, as software developer, I think the administration is still being unrealistic about what it's going to take to fix this.

    The whole story here sounds like management of projects I've seen in the past in the private sector where managers don't understand the intricacies of doing something like this and don't understand what can realistically be expected nor how important it is to have the project clearly defined before coding.

    The real question now is what next and the Daily Kos community would do the White House a big favor if it would quit enabling the denial that there's much deeper issues here and instead start insisting that we face reality and figure out a plan to fix it. That plan would likely involve delaying some things possibly for a year and I know people don't want to do that but if we don't this could sink the entire endeavor and that would be terrible.

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