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Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality

samzenpus posted about 10 months ago | from the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed dept.

Government 494

An anonymous reader writes in with this excerpt from Shirky.com. "The idea that 'failure is not an option' is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time. (If you ever say it, wash your mouth out with soap. If anyone ever says it to you, run.) Even NASA's vaunted moonshot, so often referred to as the best of government innovation, tested with dozens of unmanned missions first, several of which failed outright. Failure is always an option. Engineers work as hard as they do because they understand the risk of failure. And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying 'Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.' ... Healthcare.gov was unable to complete even a thousand enrollments a day at launch, and for weeks afterwards. As we now know, programmers, stakeholders, and testers all expressed reservations about Healthcare.gov's ability to do what it was supposed to do. Yet no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President. Worse, every senior political figure—every one—who could have bridged the gap between knowledgeable employees and the President decided not to. And so it was that, even on launch day, the President was allowed to make things worse for himself and his signature program by bragging about the already-failing site and inviting people to log in and use something that mostly wouldn't work. Whatever happens to government procurement or hiring (and we should all hope those things get better) a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things.'"

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All I can say to that is... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514295)

who?

guy at the top was in on the ruse too (2, Insightful)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 10 months ago | (#45514325)

>> a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news

I'm pretty sure the guy at the top was in on the ruse too.

>> no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President

Isn't there a petition system for that? :)

Re:guy at the top was in on the ruse too (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514797)

Thank you!

Mr Obama knows exactly what is going on and has known this was coming for years.

>> no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President

Im the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and I can't get answers from my subordinates regarding the failures of my flagship project. What happens to me? *I am fired.*

Quit making excuses for a lame duck administration.

Chauncey Gardener (4, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | about 10 months ago | (#45515101)

The more you hear about how he supposedly didn't know this or that, the more you have to wonder if he isn't a simple community organizer [imdb.com] .

Re:guy at the top was in on the ruse too (2)

Qzukk (229616) | about 10 months ago | (#45514847)

I'm pretty sure the guy at the top was in on the ruse too.

Guess who his boss is?

Re:guy at the top was in on the ruse too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514965)

I tried firing him last time. So its not the American People. Perhaps it is Corporate America?

Re:guy at the top was in on the ruse too (4, Insightful)

davide marney (231845) | about 10 months ago | (#45514903)

According to the Washington Post [washingtonpost.com] :

"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'".

The question is, what did the President know, and when did he know it? We know the responsible White House staff knew the system would not work because it simply wasn't finished. And that's only for the parts that were to go live on October 1st. As we heard last week from the existing CTO on the project, there is still 30-40% of the backend system that hasn't even been written yet.

I don't think it is reasonable that no one told the President about this. I think the President knew, but decided to push it through anyway. Why? Personally, I think it's because he believed that the glitches would be forgiven, and because the press was behind him, he could always blame the other side, and they would go along as the usually do.

Bipartisanship (3, Insightful)

Andrio (2580551) | about 10 months ago | (#45514331)

When both parties work together toward a common goal, we can put a man on the moon.

When both parties work against each other, and try to stop each other every step of the way purely for their own political agenda, we can't even launch a damn website.

Following the Will of Their Voters (4, Insightful)

glennrrr (592457) | about 10 months ago | (#45514439)

I think that the Members of the House who were newly elected in 2010 after the ACA, resulting in the GOP retaking the House, and re-elected in 2012 are rightfully following what the people in their districts want them to do: oppose the ACA. There are a handful of districts which voted for both Obama and a Republican Member of Congress, but there aren't many, and those few are pretty squishy about what to do. My own Congressman came back into Congress in 2010 (he had been unseated in 2008) and then defeated in 2012 by a Democrat; he wasn't following the will of the voters who showed up on election day 2012, other places, the story is different.

Re:Following the Will of Their Voters (5, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | about 10 months ago | (#45514827)

I think that most Americans can be found in the middle of the two extremes (far-left/far-right) but our political system is set up to reward those who pander to the extremes (Gerrymandering + closed primaries in most states), so we wind up with this system that swings back and forth between the two, rarely settling in the middle where most of the electorate lies. Divided Government used to bring outcomes in the middle (Reagan/O'Neil, and Clinton/Gingrich) but now it just seems to bring grandstanding and stalling (Bush/Pelosi, Obama/Boehner), as each side waits to beat the other in the next election, while kicking the serious issues of the day down the road, to be dealt with after they have a "mandate" from the voters. Each side misreads the smallest win as a "mandate" for their platform, ignoring the fact that 49.9% of the country voted the other way. BHO's "mandate" in 2008 can be boiled down to three words: "Don't be GWB", not "Dust off every Progressive idea that's been on the bookshelf since the 60s." Similarly, John Boehner's "mandate" in 2010 was "Don't be Nancy Pelosi", not "Give the keys to the Tea Party."

There are some benefits to the two party system in the United States, compare the (relative) stability of our system to some Parliamentary Democracies, but we're in pretty big trouble if we can't take the two parties back from their respective extremes. I'm not sure how this happens, when each party keeps bleeding elder statesmen, House primaries are dominated by rabid partisans living in echo chambers, and even the Senate (where gerrymandering is a non-issue) looks to be on a downward spiral wherein statesmen are out and partisan hacks are in.

Re:Bipartisanship (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514499)

Over half the country doesn't want it. I'm glad to see you just ignore that and blame those people instead. I guess they shouldn't be allowed to have a voice in the government because they disagree with you.

I'd also like to see a citation where the GOP actually did anything to hamper the web site.

Re: Bipartisanship (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514739)

The governor of Tennessee flat out stated he could have done a better job setting up a state sight, which he thought was a good idea, but refused to do so.

Why? Politics.

Re:Bipartisanship (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514615)

So you are saying that Republicans' opposition to the ACA law is somehow responsible for the failed website? What is your evidence? Just like when the law was passed, the GOP was completely shut out of the process when it came to implementation. They couldn't offer any amendments, debate any of the issues (other than in the press), or stop any of its funding. Obama had over 3 years and nearly a billion dollars to get the web site ready and he blew it. Other than failing to be his cheering section from the sidelines like the Democrats, nothing the GOP did prevented or caused Obama from falling flat on his face on the field.

Re:Bipartisanship (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 10 months ago | (#45514705)

The website launch cant really be blamed on partisanship; its not like congress was arguing over the placement of DIVs. The partisan arguments were whether we could shut the program down; but as that wasnt really going anywhere its hard to blame that for a broken website.

The contractor dropped the ball, and there was no management or accountability put into place. Really not that complicated, and theres not really any other explanation when the higher ups were convinced the site would launch just fine on Oct 1.

Re: Bipartisanship (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45515091)

It can be blamed on partisanship. Just look at the states who refused to set up their own exchanges, so instead of fifty attempts from numerous contractors, it was under two dozen, one of which to cover thirty or so states whose government refused to serve their people purely for political reasons.

Just look at the statement of the governor of Tennessee. Not only did he think the idea of a marketplace was a good idea, he thought his state could run the exchange better. So why didn't,t he? A bullshit excuse about not getting enough freedom from the federal government to do it.

Similar actions occurred across the country. The ACA gave states a chance to make their own attempts. Why didn't they? Partisan politics.

Re:Bipartisanship (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514721)

I am from Canada so I am not very familiar with the ACA.

I find it weird that so much attention is given to the website though. Why is it so important for the ACA to work?

At the end day, wouldn't people end up buying health care from a private company? Why is the government in the business of providing a website so that people can buy health care from a private company? Isn't that weird? Even if the website is a good thing because it allows people to compare the different plans, since the private companies are the ones who will profit from selling these plans, they are the ones who should have footed the bill and developed their own solution, no?

ACA a tutorial (2)

glennrrr (592457) | about 10 months ago | (#45514865)

The Affordable Care Act : AKA ObamaCare
Well, the website had 4 major functions:
1) Comparison shopping. In retrospect, it could have been handled by a private company that Travelocity like didn't sell insurance, but instead helped you shop.
2) Subsidy. According to the law, you only get a subsidy through a state-run exchange (the Administration has chosen to ignore the actual wording of the law to include the Federally run exchange two.)
3) Seeing if people should be shuttled off to the mediocre but cheap care of Medicaid.
4) As a showcase for the law. This was to be something concrete to show what great things progressive government is capable of.

Re:ACA a tutorial (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about 10 months ago | (#45515105)

This was to be something concrete to show what great things progressive government is capable of.

Yout have a very funny idea of what "progressive government" is. The ACA is a scheme that even Count Otto von Bismark would have found too conservative.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_von_Bismarck#Health_Insurance_Bill_of_1883 [wikipedia.org]

Re:ACA a tutorial (1, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | about 10 months ago | (#45515111)

I don't understand why the "exchanges" were necessary to meet the goals of the ACA. Subsidies for the poor can be provided without the Government being a gate-keeper (I don't have to buy my groceries from a Government run "exchange" to use food stamps) and the individual mandate/minimum coverage requirements would have worked equally well with insurance sold directly to consumers. Indeed, group policies don't come from the exchanges, and you can still buy individual policies directly from insurance brokers (albeit without the option of a subsidy), and both still have to meet the minimum essential coverage requirements of the ACA.

The exchanges are a great example of the Progressive tenancy to favor centralized Rube Golberg solutions, rather than just setting the parameters of the marketplace and getting the hell out of the way. Say what you will about private enterprise, but any halfway competent for-profit corporation would have figured out how to deploy a rating website with four years of lead time for testing and development.

Re:Bipartisanship (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514901)

If you're unfamiliar with the ACA, why don't you stay out of the discussion?

Re:Bipartisanship (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about 10 months ago | (#45515127)

You must be new here.

Re:Bipartisanship (1)

bberens (965711) | about 10 months ago | (#45514921)

One of the big parts of the ACA is the "healthcare exchange" where health insurance providers are required to basically bid in a centralized exchange. Supposedly to create competition. There are two options.. either your state can create its own exchange (insurance laws vary by state) or your state can opt out and you'll be dumped on the federal exchange. The "website" everyone is talking about is the federal exchange. If it's down, you can't purchase the health insurance you're required by law to purchase. It's pretty big egg on the face of Obama for it not to work, even though he obviously had no part in the technical aspects of it.

Re:Bipartisanship (5, Informative)

es330td (964170) | about 10 months ago | (#45514735)

we can't even launch a damn website.

The Republicans in Congress had exactly ZERO involvement with the implementation of the website. Once approved by Congress, and then upheld by the SCOTUS, it was on the Executive branch to hire the firms to build the website. This is 110% on the Executive Branch of the government.

Re:Bipartisanship (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514819)

When a country, that has received the (temporary) blessings of a goodly portion of the world banks, is lifting off in a multi-decade experiment in keyesianism, and combine that with the residual WW2, "get her done" and "risks be damned" attitude, that kept bureaucracy and regulation in check, and add in a new blossoming impetus in the cold war ....and what you have is a perfect storm, to result in our rocket program.

Fast forward.

1. The cold war ended, and it broke the russians, and it put us in a pretty big hole as well, the blowback of which, we're still seeing.
2. The central banks still find us useful, but the original deal-with-the-devil (or devils) is now approaching 60 years old, and the central banks are now playing defense, positioning themselves within the transition to China.
3. The "get her done" and "risks be damned" attitude that kept bureaucracy-hell in check, are now fully replaced with idiocracy, which is very easily seen in corporations, but is far worse in the biggest corporation of all, The United States Federal Government, which has 4 million dependents, and another 12 million unofficial dependents, the weight of which is not merely creating a sag, but bellies are dragging. The warfare/welfare state and endless push for centralization, because a little bit helped us win a war or two, so multiplying centralization by a million times, will make this country a million times better, has been championed by democrats and republicans, taking turns providing warfare benefits to the banks, and welfare benefits to individuals, corporations, and anyone with hat in hand....

So in conclusion, I find your statement moronic, and perfectly symptomatic of the stage we have reached.

Re:Bipartisanship (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514845)

Incredible.

You act like Republicans built the web site or created the ACA legislation.

You're not tone deaf, you're mentally ill. STFU with the BS platitudes.

And in case you were wondering, I'm a Democrat, although one who isn't afraid to criticize this disaster that needs to be repealed and suggest that Obama needs to impeached and thrown out.

Re:Bipartisanship (2)

John Jorsett (171560) | about 10 months ago | (#45515033)

When both parties work together toward a common goal, we can put a man on the moon.

When both parties work against each other, and try to stop each other every step of the way purely for their own political agenda, we can't even launch a damn website.

When party A thinks what party B did was an extremely bad idea and very harmful to the country, is it logical or even realistic to expect it just to shrug its shoulders and help out?

They had to launch the website... (5, Funny)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | about 10 months ago | (#45514333)

Just ask Pelosi: they had to launch the website so they could find out what would crash it.

Re:They had to launch the website... (4, Funny)

bdemchak (1099961) | about 10 months ago | (#45514759)

ObamaCare: Architected from Behind.

Where was the Press? (5, Insightful)

moehoward (668736) | about 10 months ago | (#45514341)

While there is plenty of blame to go around, I am still left wondering where the investigative journalism was regarding the true progress of ACA implementation as the 3 years progressed up to this point.

So, while the press is justifiably having a field day with the sheer incompetence displayed here, where were they while all this was developing?

Re:Where was the Press? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514497)

The press was busy covering Miley Cyrus, Charlie Sheen, and whatever the hot political issue was at the moment, because that's what gets them ratings.

Re:Where was the Press? (4, Funny)

Beeftopia (1846720) | about 10 months ago | (#45514649)

Google Trends [google.com] underscores this point.

Re:Where was the Press? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514551)

You sell more stories reporting on a train wreck than stopping one.

Re:Where was the Press? (4, Insightful)

Rolgar (556636) | about 10 months ago | (#45514907)

Do you remember all of the Y2K stories for YEARS before the year 2000? Had people all worked into a frenzy that power plants and other equipment wouldn't work on 1/1/00. I've read that the White House is pretty hostile to any publication/reporter that prints a critical story. Pair that with the love certain media individuals have with Obama, and you get a whole lot of brushing stuff under the rug that 6 years ago was extremely hostile to a president that was pretty similar on policy and competence.

Re:Where was the Press? (3, Insightful)

swb (14022) | about 10 months ago | (#45514591)

Are you kidding me?

The press was either cheerleading for Obama in other areas, railing against everything the Republicans did or supporting the failed gun control push, among other items.

And that's when the Obama administration wasn't pursuing press relations that would have made Goebbels and Stalin proud, like their stage-managing of White House press photography.

Serious investigative journalism of the ACA implementation, had it revealed what we know now, is very likely to have further enabled repeal attempts or at least led to significant delays in implementation. I don't doubt that there were closed-door editorial debates over whether ideology and party loyalty were more important than journalism.

And even if you posit a perfectly neutral press, what exactly does investigative journalism of ACA implementation look like? How do you put software development issues on the front page of a newspaper? So many technical decisions that can, would and will be debated endlessly (cf. Slashdot), plus so much would be completely opaque given it was in the hands of several different contractors who would have never cooperated with the press and who would have run to their political patrons for protection as soon as the press began sniffing around. It would have taken lawsuits to gain access to this information.

Re:Where was the Press? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514741)

I don't think I've ever seen FOX news cheerleeding for Obama.. I think you've got some problems with the accuracy of your post.

Re:Where was the Press? (2, Informative)

Seumas (6865) | about 10 months ago | (#45514641)

The press covers what the administration instructs them to cover and they don't have time for investigative journalism, when there's tweets to twitter.

Re:Where was the Press? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514763)

They were probably trying to find some dirt on Snowden`s previous life. It would make more economic sense to them.

After all the drumbeat for the Iraq war, I feel it`s even refreshing that someone still thinks there`s something called investigative journalism in America.

More like... (1)

Seumas (6865) | about 10 months ago | (#45514343)

Isn't it more like the gulf between focusing on a service versus focusing on the nepotism behind awarding contracts to provide that service?

Six months from now (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514359)

the worst fears of the GOP will be realized - people will be getting better healthcare at lower cost.
No one will remember the hysterical media and its 24/7 garbage reporting
People will remember the almost unbelievable distortions of "news" sources like S Hannity, which had what amounted to out and out lies about PPACA
u an anti obamacare politician, get ready to duck as a tidal wave of your constitutents march with signs saying, keep the gov't out of my medicare/obamacare
of course, that some person (or a few million people) are living much happier healthier lives will only be a page 3 story

Obvious troll is obvious. Try more subtle next tim (3, Insightful)

raymorris (2726007) | about 10 months ago | (#45514733)

Next time try being a little more subtle - not even Obama himself thinks this mess will be fixed in six months.
If you want to pretend to be a left wing loony, "keep the gov't out of my medicare/obamacare" is a little too stupid.
Try "keep the evil businesses out of my business".

Re:Six months from now (4, Insightful)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 10 months ago | (#45514757)

the worst fears of the GOP will be realized - people will be getting better healthcare at lower cost.

The GOP by and large isnt bothered if your costs get lower (though, in reality, it is not actually possible for the majority's costs to get lower when we are now covering higher risk people); the concern is that we are going down a path of surrendering every area of life to government control. The idea that the government has the right to tell you to buy X product in order to live in this country is problematic; and its problematic that the government is OK with saying "it doesnt matter what bad choices you make in life, we (that is America at large) has your back".

Theres a term called "enablement" when dealing with someone who has an addiction / other problem; it refers to feeding their bad choices by taking away all consequences. What do you suppose happens when everyone is paying into insurance to cover the terrible choices others make? Or, I suppose, we could fix that by legislating exactly how people can live everyday life, but Im not seeing that as much better.

Re:Six months from now (4, Interesting)

bberens (965711) | about 10 months ago | (#45515055)

As soon as we decided that hospitals were legally required to give you health care if you walked into the emergency room we decided that health care is a human right. That debate is over. So now what do we do about it? You can either have the blood suckers feed off a system they're not paying into, or you can require they pay into it like every responsible adult has been doing for generations. The government is not requiring me to do ANYTHING really. They've created a new income tax (you're exempt if you have no income) and a corresponding tax break if you happen to buy health insurance. While it may be slimey it's perfectly within the normal business of government to enact income taxes and tax breaks. IMHO single payer or Medicare-for-all would've been a preferable option, but it wasn't politically viable, so we got this. It's not great, it's basically a big handout to the insurance companies. Have you watched their stock prices? They've shot up over the last few years. But at least the bums who were living off me in the form of higher premiums I was having to pay each year will now be paying in. And if someone was really sick and was unable to get health insurance at any price before now gets health coverage.. isn't that GOOD? My ex-wife couldn't get private health insurance. I know, because we tried. She had a clotting disorder but was generally a healthy and able-bodied person. But nope, can't buy health insurance. So unless her provider got her on a group plan, she was completely SOL. If more people like her, and even people who are not able-bodied can get some insurance now then that's awesome.

Re:Six months from now (1)

bberens (965711) | about 10 months ago | (#45515079)

provider->employer

Re:Six months from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514793)

But, remember this was sold to the people using a known lie. "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period."

You are foisting another lie, that the ACA is going to make healthcare cheaper. There is no way you can make something cheaper by increasing the demand for the product alone and that's all the ACA does. Prices for everybody will only rise, unless you work on the supply side too. The ACA doesn't address the supply side, so costs can only increase.

But what's worse, the ACA is going to fundamentally change healthcare in this country, and not for the better. We will all end up with less access to higher cost lower quality healthcare. Where it's true, some who don't now may get insurance, at this point it seems likely more will loose the insurance they have. All of this was foreseeable and where objections raised by republicans.

The public decided to believe the democrats' lie over the republican objections. So be it. Only the democrats now must deliver on the lies, and I'm not sure the public is in a forgiving mood. The public understands that the democrats had free reign on this issue and botched it up badly. The democrats are in for a rough patch now, but they deserve it.

Really? (5, Insightful)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | about 10 months ago | (#45514369)

So the *signature* piece of Obama's second term agenda -- the legislation he's harped on loudly and constantly -- launches with an epic fail. The contractors working the site were sounding alarms well in advance of the launch. And yet Obama is somehow utterly unaware that the launch could be anything but a total success? I call bullshit. Either Obama is the most disconnected president in recent history when it comes to the success of his *core legislative agenda* or he's just bullshitting about not knowing there were issues on launch day.

Re:Really? (5, Insightful)

DeathToBill (601486) | about 10 months ago | (#45514547)

Aggressively and partisanly put, but I think about right. Any other senior manager in the world who said of a failure, "I didn't know," would immediately be asked, "Why didn't you know? It's your responsibility to know." As techies, we know how this goes - these organisational failures happen from the top down and it is the action of a weak, failing manager to try to pass the blame down the chain. We don't stand for it in any other situation; why would we here?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514905)

Any other senior manager in the world who said of a failure, "I didn't know," would immediately be asked, "Why didn't you know? It's your responsibility to know."

Yeah, but their answer to that question is then ignored, and the senior manager is retained and given a huge bonus as per usual. In the rare event that he (it's nearly always a he) is asked to resign, he gets a 9-figure apology from the company and can immediately acquire a position with similar responsibilities and pay at a different company, if he wants.

Re:Really? (4, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | about 10 months ago | (#45514933)

Why didn't you know? It's your responsibility to know.

"Don't look at me, I'm just a CEO"

Re:Really? (1, Insightful)

jimbolauski (882977) | about 10 months ago | (#45514557)

If you look at any of the blunders that happened during this administration you will see a pattern Obama was not aware of the missteps in his administration. The one positive thing the Bin Laden raid, Obama was at the controls making the tough calls. This worked mostly because the media gave his administration a pass and any critics were deemed right wing cooks or racists. More then likely the pressure to have everything up and running so that the success could be trumpeted for the midterm elections was more important then making sure it worked. Their thinking was that even if there are some hiccups the media will give us a pass like they have in the past and we can crush the republicans. Actually helping people was not part of the thinking process, the problem that millions of people with canceled plans may not be able to get insurance by the deadline is not a concern. This was about politics not uninsured Americans.

Re:Really? (1)

ogar572 (531320) | about 10 months ago | (#45514723)

On the Bin Laden raid, BULLSHIT!!!! He was worried that the attempt would fail and look bad on him. There were several other plans put in place to take him out and he denied all of them. He has no military experience. He has no leadership experience. It took countless amount of high ranking military officials to convince him to do this. And were was he when the raid was starting? The fucking golf course. He had to be pulled in.

Re:Really? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 10 months ago | (#45514795)

You could say a similar thing about every single US President after Washington. It was not his job to plan these raids simply his to give the military an objective. Lincoln didn't plan troop movements either.
Why do you want a clown in a tailored flight suit costume pretending to be "hands on" instead of a President?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514911)

The bin landen raid, Obama was at the controls? Except that the whole thing was orchestrated under the Bush administration, taking years to come to fruition, and it only happened to complete under Obama. As we're seeing now, it's more a miracle he didn't manage to mess that up too.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514691)

The problem is that the people knowing the failures tell their supervisors... who are SUPPOSED to tell their contracting officers... who don't want to know, and ignore/deny the information.

Thus nothing gets done.

There is also the conspiracy theory that the contractor employees were closet Republicans and they committed sabotage to create the failure in the first place.

Re:Really? (2)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 10 months ago | (#45514781)

The contractors working the site were sounding alarms well in advance of the launch.

They were?

Either Obama is the most disconnected president in recent history

He's done this on several issues where responsibility by all rights should have rested with the Executive, but somehow he was unaware of what was going on. I recall some quote about how government is just too big to be able to keep track of it all; its as if he didnt read the job description or exactly what his purpose is.

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514833)

Uh, unless she was lying her face off, Condoleeza Rice was unaware of any problems getting passports to people on time, until she saw a report of actual people having waited months, on tv. All of her managers kept reporting to her that things were going ok, with some 'minor issues' they were working out...

There _definitely_ exists a culture of not wanting to deliver bad news. At what point should you alert the boss that things might be going wrong... Even if it is just not wanting to bother him/her with stuff that _you_ should be able to handle. And if you leave it too late, it becomes progressively harder to admit things are off track, because of "why didn't you warn us sooner?".

But don't let reality stand in the way of your partisan view of the world. Because clearly, a failed website is exactly the same as the whole health care reform being an epic fail.

Re:Really? (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 10 months ago | (#45514857)

the legislation he's harped on loudly and constantly -- launches with an epic fail

legislation != website

you must work for the press, given your statement and apparent belief (er, I mean, misunderstanding).

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514935)

Either Obama is the most disconnected president in recent history when it comes to the success of his *core legislative agenda* or he's just bullshitting about not knowing there were issues on launch day.

It's just another lie from Obama on this. He knew about the problems with the website, just like he knew that "You can keep your plan" wasn't true.

This whole administration is SO not above lying to the people about *anything* that suits their political gain at the time. Obama has maintained this "I didn't know" line for a lot of things. He didn't know about the NSA spying on foreign leaders, he didn't know about Benghazi, he didn't know about the website being a mess or that it wasn't just some "glitches" like he said. Unless he's just plain stupid (and I don't for a second think that's possible) there is no way he can be so unaware of *everything* that he claims surprises him. Maybe he really is just a puppet, but given his tendency to just flat out lie when it suits his political purposes, I'm inclined to just chalk anything he says up to being a lie, until proven otherwise. I suggest you do too.

The Contempt for the Engineer (5, Insightful)

glennrrr (592457) | about 10 months ago | (#45514387)

I think the most interesting thought in the article was about the author's observation of contempt between modern managers (in the example in the publishing business) and the engineers who actually create and manage systems. I'm also drawn to how articles written with sources inside the Administration refer to the technical people as 'Technicians' instead of what they probably were 'Senior Software Engineers' or appropriate equivalent title. I certainly don't think of myself as a technician, and I find the term somewhat demeaning somehow.

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514433)

They could call you an associate.

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514541)

technical associate

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514585)

Or holistic architectural computeroligist

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 10 months ago | (#45514861)

What does the IEEE or similar call you? How about the people in the example? Maybe these people actually were technicians with engineer just as a HR granted title like a cable TV installation guy, but either way you are correct about the contempt from some non-technical management causing communication problems.

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (2)

bdemchak (1099961) | about 10 months ago | (#45514891)

Quite right. I fight battles of this sort weekly. Top researchers and domain managers believe their systems are built by "programmers" and that the key to their success is to have enough "good" programmers. These researchers/managers are far from stupid, but there's a huge void in their understanding of what it takes to put up real systems. We *need* an epic fail like this to start conversations that enable intelligent people to glimpse and appreciate good development processes and personnel stacks ... and the consequences of benign and willful neglect. We'll have more of these fails until all of this starts to sink in.

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (1)

dwpro (520418) | about 10 months ago | (#45515025)

Are you certified as an engineer [ncees.org] ? Until we decide to start making the term mean something, it's empty talk. I'm gearing up to take the certification myself next year.

Re:The Contempt for the Engineer (5, Insightful)

Beeftopia (1846720) | about 10 months ago | (#45515069)

I think the most interesting thought in the article was about the author's observation of contempt between modern managers (in the example in the publishing business) and the engineers who actually create and manage systems.

I know why this is: A vice president of a staffing firm is in my social circle. A group of us were talking about a website idea. The VP and some quasi technical managers assured me that the solution was commoditized - already done before, available off the shelf as components. Nothing new, just need to get qualified people and equipment to plug and play. Very straightforward.

So, while that is technically true... it is an utterly different and vastly more difficult matter to be able to identify the right people and create an environment where they can obtain the right equipment and room to maneuver. So, while the CTO of Google might be able to snap his fingers and create the website in a few weeks, a staffing company doesn't have access to that specific elite experience, or that development environment.

Managers want to look at us - programmers, software engineers - as totally fungible, mere factory robots. Identical units which can quickly be obtained off the shelf and who can then implement a solution as long as it's kind of similar to any existing solution. HOWEVER - we're more like doctors and hospitals, where, despite having the same title, the variation in ability and intelligence and tools is quite high [jhu.edu] . Think about the medical stories you read about where the person goes through doctor after doctor trying to cure a malady, until they find the right doctor. Or where a person has a rare malady and serendipitously finds a doctor researching this issue and obtains a cure. I think this dynamic exists in all professions but it's quite emphasized in programming.

So, that's why there might be contempt - both sides really don't understand what they're dealing with. Managers looking at people who inexplicably can't just "do it" - they look at programmers like fungible factory robots (I don't say workers because even unskilled labor has variations in ability) turning bolts to put together pre-existing solutions. And programmers thrown into hidebound, designed-to-thwart-change development environments while trying to learn new concepts and put together novel solutions in a designed-to-fail environment.
 

Hope is not an engineering methodology (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514415)

Subject pretty much says it, both the legistlation and implementing regulations were hope-based....

Step 1, open up the bidding process completely (5, Insightful)

MikeRT (947531) | about 10 months ago | (#45514419)

CGI was selected in part because they were one of only a handful of companies that got on the task order from DHHS that covered this and many other big CMS contracts. This system is designed to make it extremely difficult to just start a business and put out a bid. The justifications for it are very flimsy and center around things like making sure that some fly-by-night company doesn't get the contract/screening out junk bids. Poblem is, they don't actually work. In many cases, they just let the "primes" that win the slots act as funnels for the actual work done by subcontracts which just adds to the cost of the contract.

Another thing, if the reddit thread on this was correct, CMS needs to do what the DoD increasingly does with overtime which is to scrutinize or reject invoices with more than 80 hours per two weeks per employee unless the overtime was either authorized or can be explained in reasonable terms. Overworked government contractors don't get rich; their employers do at the expense of the employee and government. One thing often left unappreciated by the general public is that unpaid overtime is literally stealing employment from the employee because a salaried employee is only authorized to bill so many hours to a contract during a period of performance.

Re:Step 1, open up the bidding process completely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514587)

Actually, this system was set up by knee-jerk reactions of congress to previous failures. It's not designed to prevent small business from putting in a bid; that's just the nature of beauracracy. In fact, the federal acquisition regulations include small-business set asides and special rules to include small business, women owned businesses, minority owned businesses and veteran owned businesses. However, a project of this magnitude requires a "responsive bidder" who has experience with all of the systems that will be touched and certification to some CMMI level (think ISO 9001 for federal software contracts). Given the complexities of the acquisition system, it would have taken 2 years to initiate a new contract, hence adding a task order to a BOA (basic ordering agreement) or IDIQ (indifinite delivery, indefinite quantity) contract.

The system did work, however, in that manner which it was most specifically designed for; to distribute blame away from any one person.

Re:Step 1, open up the bidding process completely (1)

Luthair (847766) | about 10 months ago | (#45514619)

If the government is paying by the hour the entire project should be handled in house so they maintain managerial control.

Re:Step 1, open up the bidding process completely (2)

tompaulco (629533) | about 10 months ago | (#45514679)

One thing often left unappreciated by the general public is that unpaid overtime is literally stealing employment from the employee because a salaried employee is only authorized to bill so many hours to a contract during a period of performance.

Unpaid overtime is ALWAYS stealing from the employee, whether the employee is government, a contractor, or private sector. The employee agreed to work 40 hours for X amount of compensation. If the employee is working more than that, they deserve to be compensated. if they are working less than that, they deserve to have their pay reduced.

Re:Step 1, open up the bidding process completely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514883)

As someone who contracts for the government, generally we're individually responsible for making sure we do not exceed billable hours.

Its POSSIBLE that folks are working 160 hours and only getting paid for 80, but if that happens more than once its sort of your fault.

If Only... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514431)

If only there was this much scrutiny and post-mortem analysis over other government failures such as, oh, I don't know, the multi-BILLION dollar failure joint strike force fighter that nobody wants (other than private contractors who are making billions).

Thank gawd, however, that we have this eagle eyed scrutiny over a website that's a few months over deadline and a few million over budget.

Accountability (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514487)

Yeah, poor Barack. The dude nationalized 1/6th of the nation's economy and designated himself the world's most powerful insurance salesman. You'd think he'd sit in on a milestone meeting once in a while.

article in a single sentence (4, Insightful)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 10 months ago | (#45514579)

when non-engineers that dont understand technology but make engineering decisions, shit like this happens.

shocker.

Interpreting "X is Not an Option" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514613)

When you hear "X is not an option", for some X, you should understand it as "X is a foregone conclusion". Here are some examples:

Bankruptcy is not an option for General Motors.
Defaulting on the government's obligations is not an option.

You can make up your own examples. It is easy.

Re:Interpreting "X is Not an Option" (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 10 months ago | (#45515009)

If you want X to be understood as Y, then just say Y!

That's not rocket science...

Not Just in Gov (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514639)

This issue of only reporting good news upwards is prevalent in *many* places, not just in the Federal government. I don't understand how it happens, but there has to be a "don't fire the messenger" culture where delays, bugs, issues, are all handled in stride and the project stakeholders are getting good information during the entire project. I am involved in plenty of projects where this doesn't happen, though, and everyone nods politely while someone reports that something IMPOSSIBLE to complete is being reported as "slightly behind, but we'll make it up...somehow".

Re:Not Just in Gov (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 10 months ago | (#45515071)

Warning signs for that culture include:

"The chinese have the same word for risk as they do have for opportunity",
"With that attidude of seeing only problems we never would have gotten a man to the moon",
"I need visionarys, not objection raisers",
"If you are not with my vision, you are agains us",
and actually understanding Dilbert cartoons.

Time for change (2)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about 10 months ago | (#45514645)

The task was simple. Make a friggin website that takes user input and spits out insurance options. If this happened where I work, they'd fire the whole lot without question. Probably enact some kind of legal investigation as to where all the money went too.

If Congress can't handle a simple friggin website project, it's time to clean house and Enact term limits. Restructure the entire congressional seating process, and give people more control over who's buying the laws for us. It's time to change that whole mess.

Re:Time for change (1, Interesting)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 10 months ago | (#45514953)

you make it sound simple.

this not a matter of 'read(a); print(a);'

the amount of crap in the law and all the rules and exceptions (not to mention per-state stuff) makes this nearly unimplementable.

its no surprise that when you have thousands of pages of rules to implement, you will have issues and bugs.

blame the republicans, again; they littered the law with so many porkbarrel exceptions for their own people that we could not get a clean law in place. benefits for the insurance companies cluttered up the works much more than they should have.

a single payer system would have been simpler and better for us but the republicans kept sayins "but, but, but, SOCIALISM!" and so they got what they wanted: a piece of shit law that just barely delivers anything to The People (for who it was all intended, btw).

amazon as fought against paying state taxes due to complexity for years and years and they are a well-known software company with a mostly can-do attitude and even they were afraid of all the work involved in the tax system. the healthcare system is as bad or even worse, in its implementation.

its no wonder it failed. it failed because it was designed and voted on by committees who, half wanted to help people and half wanted to sabotage anything to do with obama.

but, was it even a failure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514653)

I just tried going to healthcare.gov. It works fine for me.

Re:but, was it even a failure? (1)

Kalium70 (3437049) | about 10 months ago | (#45515045)

I tried to use healthcare.gov soon after it first came online. It was very slow, and eventually the system got to a point where it wouldn't let me go forward with my application or do anything else. A few days later, I tried again. This time, it complained that it couldn't verify my ID, and it told me call an 800-number or submit my ID online. The 800-number was closed at that time, so I decided to upload one of the identification documents. A week or so later, I still couldn't use my account, and I had not received any email about it either. Next, I tried calling the 800-number, which seems to be contracted with Experian. Experian asked for a "reference number" that the web site was supposed to have provided, but it didn't. Without that number, Experian refused to help me. The main healthcare.gov phone number could not help me, either. Finally, I tried creating a new account, and at some point the site asked me a few multiple-choice questions about my previous addresses and so forth. This is apparently the ID "verification." I had never gotten to this page on my original account! Eventually, I was able to look at the insurance plans available. My guess is that my original account ended up with bad data in it, and there was no way to recover from it other than creating a new account.

bipartisan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514673)

Hint that a larger than usual deception is being carried out.

free the innocent stem cells etc.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514675)

we could stop supplying weapons that are killing our genuine allys mostly kids in some free land freeloader greed fear hoarding real estate based genocides (see also the native american genocides; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88k2imkGIFA

stop feeding us crap made by corepirate nazis

let our civil servants treat us with civility again

put an end to the ever fatal WMD MANufactured 'weather' http://www.globalresearch.ca/weather-warfare-beware-the-us-military-s-experiments-with-climatic-warfare/7561

clean up the false alarm media mongrelling 24/7

that should make most of us feel better right away at least a start instead of the current cheerleading hypenosys 24/7 for 10 years

could call it healthcare.love (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514715)

if there were any (love) involved. maybe we should ask the moms or the native elders?

Nope (1, Insightful)

Enry (630) | about 10 months ago | (#45514689)

(If you ever say it, wash your mouth out with soap. If anyone ever says it to you, run.)

I reject that sentiment. The statement was a motivating tool. It may not have been said - it probably didn't need to be said during the real mission as these were people that worked with those astronauts for years before the launch occurred. They didn't need to be told that the future of the space program and the three astronauts hung on their actions. But it got the point across to the audience, who didn't have that relationship.

Re:Nope (1)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 10 months ago | (#45514899)

Yes, he was saying "So much is at stake here that we won't consider a plan for failure. Failure is so bad that it isn't valuable to consider" IN a business setting, failure of the enterprise is a viable option. Costs might become too high, business environment or regulations might change, etc. For Apollo 13 these weren't options. Either bring these guys home or we all pack up and go home.

Regardless, if a manager said it to me at my work I might consider running.

Re:Nope (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 10 months ago | (#45515135)

Which is why it was probably okay to use that in the movie, where you have an audience in mind. This is like the obligatory killing of a red short early in a ST:TOS episode. Just to show the audience how dangerous the situation is. In real life, killing an ensign every now and then is NOT going to raise morale.

The Space Shuttle (1)

BigBadBus (653823) | about 10 months ago | (#45514699)

It could be argued that complacency within the Space Shuttle design team engendered a feeling of "failure is never an option." Why else be so confident in a design that allowed them to remove crew escape contingencies and quote a 100,000 in 1 failure rate?

Overblown (0)

timeOday (582209) | about 10 months ago | (#45514773)

All the angst over the website is just getting silly. Yes, the website launch sucked. So what? Nobody died. The site didn't even exist before. You can still go to the individual insurers' sites if you want, like before. In a few months the new site will be working, and the whole thing will be quickly forgotten.

I still don't understand (1)

Aaron H (2820425) | about 10 months ago | (#45514809)

I still don't get how the website could have failed so incredibly miserably.

The problems the site faces seem to be elementary, the type of mistakes that I made when I was first doing web development. I get that the scale of the site is massive, and that at that scale you have to do many things a little differently than smaller-scale web apps. But this was a president who had very tech-savvy people at hand on his campaign, and even in his first term (Look at "change.gov" for example; that site gets massive traffic and holds up pretty well, even if the responses from the WH are patronizing as hell at times). How come this site crashed and burned so pathetically?

How and why Glasnost & Perestroika ended Cold (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514835)

" a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things."
So simple, so true. Obviously US government people don't need to fear Gulag, but I guess the specter of unemployment nowadays is the threat enough.

Bureaucratic reality generation (5, Insightful)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 10 months ago | (#45514897)

Bureaucrats are comfortable generating reality. To a large extent this becomes their job; if you are in charge of an environmental clean up you will move the goalposts around to match what you can do, and if you can't even meet these mutable goals you figure out a way to measure it so that the result are met. Plus you take any reports that indicate failure and "massage" them until they look good; and if the underlings who create these horrible truths won't shut up you punish them or just get rid of them.

This works well when the facts are a bit fuzzy and you are able to control the flow of information to your superiors and ideally the public. The problem is that the skillset that enables these people to survive and thrive in a bureaucracy aren't the skills required to deliver a functioning and realistic test passing product. So you have a product such as healthcare.gov which is going to be wildly exposed to the public and the scrutiny of people you can't control (the press and political opposition) and oddly enough it blows up.

People look at the hard numbers and say this is a pile of crap that doesn't work. Yet I am willing to bet two key things are happening:
One is that there are reports flowing up to the top people (who don't understand technology) that are a combination of saying that it works far better than the "detractors" are claiming while simultaniously blaming some other party with lesser abilities to communicate with said superiors.
And two that the company that won this contract is awesome at participating in this reality distorting circlejerk. I bet that the reports and other paperwork was Washington gold; the product of top-of-the-class-MBAs. People for whom facts are not only to be ignored but to be looked at with suspicion and hostility.

So the question of which development style should have been used or which technology was best are nearly moot; in that every choice would have been made based upon the criteria of "It must look good in a report"

I suspect that the only lesson learned from this in Washington is that if you love your career that you should not get involved in a project that involves a measurable end product that is delivered to the public.

The various opposition groups will probably try to score various points based upon actual facts such as cronyism and poor testing but the reality is that 5 minutes into getting power they would hand a similar project over to their insider friends and primarily demand good paperwork over an actual product.

So to prevent this type of disaster you can't look at say agile practices in software but maybe agile type practices within government itself.

Failure is not an option ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45514975)

... it comes bundled with the software.

Am I the only one who can tell the difference (1)

tpstigers (1075021) | about 10 months ago | (#45514981)

between a piece of legislation and a website? The Affordable Care Act is NOT a website. The failure of the website does not equate to a failure of the Act. Mainly, it's indicative of the fact that government contracts go to companies that are good at getting government contracts, NOT companies that are good at the work for which the contracts are granted.

Apollo 13 (4, Insightful)

freeze128 (544774) | about 10 months ago | (#45515019)

Way to take that line out of context. "Failure is not an option." wasn't about general day to day stuff, it was about saving the lives of 3 astronauts during an emergency situation. In fact, the mission (LANDING ON THE FREEKIN MOON) was indeed a failure.... They DIDN'T do it!

The whole "failure is not an option" thing is fine when you have lives in danger and the whole world is watching, but you don't get to use it about your website, no matter how many jobs are at stake. The message to take away here is "Even a million jobs are not worth 1 human life." If you understand and live by that, you will be a better person. Otherwise, you're just another scumbag millionaire who doesn't care about people.

Who's responsibility was it to communicate risks? (4, Insightful)

EMG at MU (1194965) | about 10 months ago | (#45515067)

In my group there is a person with that specific responsibility. They communicate the possibility of not meeting a deadline and make contingency plans to get the best result given the circumstances.

That person should be fired, and IIRC they have already resigned.

Now find senior advisors who weren't responsible for communicating the risks but knew about them anyways. Ask them why they didn't communicate the risks to the President and based on their answer either fire them or reprimand them.

Send the message that there will be accountability. Why is that important? Unfortunately, be it in Government or the private sector, there is a culture of "that wasn't my job". Everyone knows the project will fail, every single fucking person from the junior engineer to the senior project director know. But everyone winks at each other across the table at meetings and agrees that "failure is not an option, it will be done on time". And inside their heads and within their small groups everyone is saying "well it's not my job to sound the alarm". There is no incentive to take that political hit and say "Boss, we might have told you several times that everything is OK but honestly there are some severe risks to launching by the deadline and we need to start planning for a delay or reduction in features". Instead, when shit hits the fan it's like a mexican gunfight, everyone points a finger at someone else and says "well he knew too" or "that wasn't my job to bring up that this would never work."

Engineering is hard, failure happens. It really shouldn't be punished (except where people just failed to do their jobs), instead it should be learned from so that the same mistakes are not made again.

One day, when software engineering management is a real discipline, they will pound it into the heads of MBAs and PMPs that failure is not only an option, its the most common result so make sure the lines of communication are open, that people feel comfortable communicating risks and saying no, and that all the stakeholders know that the engineers cannot travel through time, so if you start a 1 year project 9 months before you want it to launch then you are SOL and have to pick what features are most important.

I hate "you have more than one number one priority" more than "failure is not an option" and I feel people who say one usually say the other.

Exact opposite in my experience (3, Insightful)

hsmith (818216) | about 10 months ago | (#45515097)

a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things

In a former life I did a lot of gov contracting. For any project, you couldn't get your GPM (gov program manager) to sign off on anything. Why? Because they had to go to their boss to get approval. Who also had to go to their boss to get approval and so on.

Why? Because they didn't want to be the one to blame if something went wrong. If anything, they were very apt to go up the flag pole for anything, but the issue was you never got an answer for anything.

This seems to be the case for healthcare.gov, no one made actionable decisions.

A little perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45515133)

March 21st 2010 to October 1 2013 is 3 years, 6 months, 10 days. December 7, 1941 to May 8, 1945 is 3 years, 5 months, 1 day. What this means is that in the time we were attacked at Pearl Harbor to the day Germany surrendered is not enough time for this federal government to build a working webpage. Mobilization of millions, building tens of thousands of tanks, planes, jeeps, subs, cruisers, destroyers, torpedoes, millions upon millions of guns, bombs, ammo, etc. Turning the tide in North Africa, Invading Italy, D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, Race to Berlin - all while we were also fighting the Japanese in the Pacific!! And in that amount of time - this administration can't build a working webpage.

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