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How Obama's tech team saved his presidency a second time
March 3, 2014 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Inside the Nightmare Launch of HealthCare.Gov - "Unknown to a nation following the fiasco, McDonough's assignment from the President had boiled down to something more dire than how to fix the site. As the chief of staff remembers his mission, it was 'Can it be patched and improved to work, or does it need to be scrapped to start over? He wanted to know if this thing is salvageable.' Yes, on Oct. 17, the President was thinking of scrapping the whole thing and starting over." (previously)

also btw...
posted by kliuless (120 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sounds positive!
posted by tinkletown at 4:03 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


As the chief of staff remembers his mission, it was 'Can it be patched and improved to work, or does it need to be scrapped to start over? He wanted to know if this thing is salvageable.' Yes, on Oct. 17, the President was thinking of scrapping the whole thing and starting over."

Honestly I really like that he was thinking of that, rather than getting caught up in the sunk cost fallacy and pushing forward even if it was a horrible idea.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:07 PM on March 3 [42 favorites]


Eponysterical!
posted by sfts2 at 4:12 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


It's odd that Obama had such a crack team of technologists put together to get him elected and re-elected, but when it came time to do the main thing he was elected to do, the IT component was a practical failure.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:36 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


It's not odd at all; his campaign team had far fewer constraints than a government project does, with less complexity and fewer stakeholders. And that's before you factor in the politics. This sort of "failure" is not rare or odd in projects of this nature.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:40 PM on March 3 [48 favorites]


It's odd that Obama had such a crack team of technologists put together to get him elected and re-elected

Well, he really had social media / internet marketing people, which isn't really the same thing as you need to create high-availability, legislatively defined infrastructure.
posted by Jimbob at 4:41 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


It's odd that Obama had such a crack team of technologists put together to get him elected and re-elected, but when it came time to do the main thing he was elected to do, the IT component was a practical failure.

His election team didn't have to deal with Federal contracting rules.
posted by empath at 4:44 PM on March 3 [49 favorites]


I know somebody who works with CGI, and apparently the original project was supposed to be more of a brochure site... I could never figure out how a massive project like this started out with a $120M price tag with a 6 month timeline, when the failed Ontario health records project cost $1B. So I asked him.

So my contact said that yeah, it was supposed to be a simple brochure site for ACA, but once the pols took over, well... talk about scope creep!
posted by KokuRyu at 4:50 PM on March 3 [8 favorites]


We already have a redistributive tax system. It's just that most of the benefits are distributed to the wealthy and particular sectors of activity like the finance system. We should be cautious of talking about treating redistribution as if it is something that doesn't already happen. It's a deceptive framing.
posted by idb at 4:51 PM on March 3 [13 favorites]


There was an earlier thread with a good discussion on why the obstacles to creating an efficient healthcare.gov website were so much greater than apparently-similar projects in the private sector (or social media etc).
posted by demonic winged headgear at 4:53 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


It's odd that Obama had such a crack team of technologists put together to get him elected and re-elected, but when it came time to do the main thing he was elected to do, the IT component was a practical failure.

I'm not sure how much of a failure it was. It was very public beta but they turned it around faster than many of the web2.0 wundersites manage ( Ellen took down twitter with a selfie.) and pulled it off in a extremely hostile environment with half of congress and half of the state governors working against it.

I think of it as less of a disaster and more of a miracle that it works at all.
posted by srboisvert at 4:53 PM on March 3 [13 favorites]


Every new product launch on the web that I've been a part of has had failures like healthcare.gov did. You just don't tend to see as much media focused on them. If your website sucks when it first goes online, basically employees and friends mostly see them. You rarely launch a new product and have a million people looking at it right away unless you're google, and even then, they do invite-only betas first.
posted by empath at 4:58 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


In fact, I think the main problem with healthcare.gov was that they didn't do a slow roll-out, but I don't know if, legally, that was feasible.
posted by empath at 5:00 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


Yeah, as someone who works in software I was kind of shocked that they managed to whip the website into shape as quickly as they did. They had a hard deadline, political constraints, political infighting, multiple legacy systems to deal with, feature creep, etc. etc. It's like a listing of all the problems that can sink a software project.
posted by Balna Watya at 5:01 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


. It's just that most of the benefits are distributed to the wealthy

The CBO disagrees with you. I'm inclined to believe them.

households in the highest quintile received 51.9 percent of before-tax income and 48.1 percent of after-tax income.

link
posted by jpe at 5:05 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded of the reason why MMOs usually have terrible queues, lag and other server problems on launch day.

Ideally you'd have enough servers to handle that day one load, but you're likely never to need that many again. It's a tightrope walk between having enough servers to make a worthwhile experience while remaining profitable.

(Some MMOs have tried to solve this by having multiple launch days, but that raises its own problems -- how do you decide who gets to go first? It's not like you can preorder Obamacare and GameStop.)
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 5:06 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Ideally you'd have enough servers to handle that day one load, but you're likely never to need that many again. It's a tightrope walk between having enough servers to make a worthwhile experience while remaining profitable.

I'm reliably informed that the cloud solves that. The cloud solves everything.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:09 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Why Healthcare.gov Stumbled and the Techies who Brought it Back

I'm getting pretty sick of being called a "techie." We're "software engineers," thank you.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 5:10 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


( Ellen took down twitter with a selfie.)

Tangent, but I didn't notice any outage, and google mentions only that it was down "momentarily."
The bad old "Fail Whale" days of Twitter are directly attributable to their use of Rails, and its extremely unsuitability for large-scale applications. Twitter is now on Java, and so I imagine is the healthcare site.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:13 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


I'm getting pretty sick of being called a "rodeo clown." We're "arena comedians," thank you.
posted by valkane at 5:15 PM on March 3 [17 favorites]


I'm getting pretty sick of being called a "techie." We're "software engineers," thank you.

Or, alternatively, experts.
posted by weston at 5:27 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


the original project was supposed to be more of a brochure site... I could never figure out how a massive project like this started out with a $120M price tag with a 6 month timeline

Now I want to know how a brochure site starts with a $120M price tag
posted by ook at 5:30 PM on March 3 [14 favorites]


I think this part explains what was going wrong before Oct. 18:

What Abbott could not find, however, was leadership. He says that to this day he cannot figure out who was supposed to have been in charge of the HealthCare.gov launch. Instead he saw multiple contractors bickering with one another and no one taking ownership for anything.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:34 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Now I want to know how a brochure site starts with a $120M price tag

You ask for $200M and let them talk you down.
posted by srboisvert at 5:37 PM on March 3 [20 favorites]


His election team didn't have to deal with Federal contracting rules.

Or payers. (Insurance Companies)
posted by DigDoug at 5:47 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Twitter is now on Java
Twitter is on the JVM, yes, but uses Scala
posted by grubby at 5:50 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Honestly I really like that he was thinking of that, rather than getting caught up in the sunk cost fallacy and pushing forward even if it was a horrible idea.

slowclap.gif

Even His failures illustrate His incredible-ness.
posted by codswallop at 5:57 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


Everyone involved in the post release surge should be very proud of the fact that what's being reported here is "how it was fixed" not "it's still broken." The Time article isn't perfect, but it's much better than what I usually see getting out to the general public with regard to these sorts of things.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:58 PM on March 3


Even His failures illustrate His incredible-ness.

It seems to me that most Americans left of center are disappointed in Obama in a lot of ways. I don't really hear a lot of cheerleading from other people on my side, whether on Metafilter or elsewhere -- just the opposite, really. So it's surprising to me that you seem to feel otherwise.
posted by my favorite orange at 6:16 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


The question I have is: what went wrong and how can this kind of failure never happen again? Because the way all this was handled by the administration whose signature initiative this was -- the incredibly poor management and planning, the haphazard use of contractors, the ignorance of best practices of software design and testing -- just seems to confirm all the worst stereotypes about the inability of government to do anything complex.

Yes, they fixed it, but in an age where the private sector produces technology like Google and Amazon, what possible excuse is there for the federal government to be so inept in the first place? In that sense (and in that sense alone) it reminds of the gross incompetence of the planning for the Iraqi occupation. It makes it seem like this kind of failure is bipartisan and somehow inevitable.
posted by shivohum at 6:36 PM on March 3


It seems to me that most Americans left of center are disappointed in Obama in a lot of ways. I don't really hear a lot of cheerleading from other people on my side, whether on Metafilter or elsewhere -- just the opposite, really.

Have a Republican poke them. They'll sing a whole different song.

In fact I think the problem is that the Republicans have taken such a huge drubbing over the last few years -- they've made fools of themselves with the god-knows-how-many ACA votes, they got their asses handed to them on the government shutdown, and any sort of social agenda they had for homosexuality is pretty much shredded. Historically, without an outside threat the left has usually turned on each other.

As the election season starts up and the possibility of a Republican president looms I think you'll see a lot more unity and praise of the current administration.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:49 PM on March 3 [2 favorites]


The question I have is: what went wrong and how can this kind of failure never happen again? Because the way all this was handled by the administration whose signature initiative this was -- the incredibly poor management and planning, the haphazard use of contractors, the ignorance of best practices of software design and testing -- just seems to confirm all the worst stereotypes about the inability of government to do anything complex.

Sadly, I'm not sure this is possible. Having worked in healthcare IT (on the insurer side) I'm amazed our healthcare system works at all. Government bureaucracy doesn't help the situation, but the mess that is healthcare IT has a lot to do with it as well. Beyond that, it's probably a culture problem in the industry - the best and brightest minds aren't jumping at the chance to work on sexy healthcare projects. I'm encouraged by this story a bit, it's just a shame that of course it takes super-human effort to fix something that could have been done right the first time.
posted by gorbichov at 7:14 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Even His failures illustrate His incredible-ness.

Man, do I just not get this meme that the right continues to push about some deification of the president. I mean, you got a smart aleck remark in, but did it even speak at all to the idea that yes, there is such a thing as the sunk cost fallacy and the executive in charge of a seriously large organization is aware of it? That's a failing?
posted by ndfine at 7:16 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


Yes, we must never be cynical or make sarcastic remarks about President Obama.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:19 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


in an age where the private sector produces technology like Google and Amazon

Do you remember what those sites were like when they first launched?
posted by inigo2 at 7:28 PM on March 3 [18 favorites]


Yes, we must never be cynical or make sarcastic remarks about President Obama.

This wasn't a cynical remark about the president, it was a remark about jason_steakum's take that maybe the president understands sunk costs, filtered through a long played snarky meme that everyone who might support any of the administration's policies considers the president a god/actually God.

Sarcasm and cynicism about Obama are very warranted, and I'll happily join you, but real substance is what I'm looking for and all the criticism I see is just the same boring crap like Obama-as-savior over and over.
posted by ndfine at 7:29 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


I'm just curious to see how long people's memories are. The Repubs are putting all their eggs into the Obamacare failure as a way to get back into power. The website failure was milked for all it was worth, but I suspect that by the time November rolls around, that will no longer be a factor. Then it will be on to who wins the ACA narrative. The Repubs are all counting on it being a big hated disaster, and riding this all the way in Nov 14 and 16. I should stock up on popcorn.
posted by VikingSword at 7:34 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


>>in an age where the private sector produces technology like Google and Amazon
>Do you remember what those sites were like when they first launched?


Yeah, the idea that private sector rollouts aren't regular clusterfucks is pretty bizarre.

There's likely selection bias in play there. You only know the names of the companies that did manage to get their acts together.

And of course those are only the external rollouts. In his house at R'yleh, dreaming Cthulu has friggin' nightmares about SAP upgrades.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:40 PM on March 3 [21 favorites]


Do you remember what those sites were like when they first launched?

Yes, I remember they didn't make promises they couldn't keep. They started small, and did what they did well, and expanded from there.
posted by shivohum at 7:45 PM on March 3


also btw..
All horror stories are lies. Listen to the :18 second mark. Tough to argue with a Majority Senator telling it how it is in everyday America.

A requirement for enrollment was payment of premiums. HHS still doesn't have any idea on how many have paid, but if the law has problems just change the rules.
posted by brent at 8:03 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


Huh, I didn't notice this post was here when I posted this question today, but here's my related question:

Is anyone else who works in county hospitals noticing a decrease in their census? Because at my county hospital, we have way fewer patients all the sudden. Maybe it's a total random thing but I'm wondering if we're going to start hemorrhaging patients to private hospitals, and what the impact for public hospitals will be. The big issues I see immediately are that a lot of public hospitals are also teaching hospitals. Also, I'm not sure the correlation is as close, but a lot of county hospitals are also regional trauma centers. So just allowing the county hospitals to shut down seems like a problematic outcome.
posted by latkes at 8:08 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


I'm getting pretty sick of being called a "techie." We're "software engineers," thank you.

I'm guessing you're even more upset by this (as would anyone who respects a decent wage in general and from multi-billion dollar companies).
posted by juiceCake at 8:09 PM on March 3


In an age where the private sector produces technology like Google and Amazon

Yeah, it's a good thing they never go down or anything.

Twitter spent over half a billion dollars on a R&D last year, and Ellen still managed to bring it down.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:10 PM on March 3


(Also, county hospitals are the only places that reliably serve undocumented people, at least in my state.)
posted by latkes at 8:10 PM on March 3


In his house at R'yleh, dreaming Cthulu has friggin' nightmares about SAP upgrades.

I was once asked how long the typical PeopleSoft implementation was. I told the interviewer I'd let him know as soon as I encountered one that actually finished.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:14 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


Yes, we must never be cynical or make sarcastic remarks about President Obama.

It's not like we can do it behind his back.

He is the panoptobama.
posted by srboisvert at 8:17 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


Yes, I remember they didn't make promises they couldn't keep. They started small, and did what they did well, and expanded from there.

That is not what government does. Government does big things that need to be done and that no one else wants to invest millions of dollars into doing -- like basic research, food stamps, defense projects, building the federal highways. I'm sure that General Motors could have landed on the moon at one tenth the price that NASA did it for, but there was no profit in it, so it wasn't going to happen.

There's always going to be waste and excess in big government projects. That's just what happens when the invisible hand of the market fails at providing some essential service and government needs to step in.

And it's not like there isn't graft and corruption and waste in private industry.
posted by empath at 8:17 PM on March 3 [32 favorites]


Government does big things that need to be done and that no one else wants to invest millions of dollars into doing -- like basic research, food stamps, defense projects, building the federal highways.

You've confused means with ends. Amazon and Google always wanted to be large too. The point is that they didn't put up their websites without testing and deliver an embarrassingly crappy experience.

And it's not like there isn't graft and corruption and waste in private industry.

Apparently it's a hell of a lot less than in government, because despite it we're able to get Google and Amazon. The whole point is that the market competition actually does deliver absolutely beautiful results in the technology arena.

The way the government is functioning is unacceptable. It needs to get exponentially better.

If people think government is inherently incompetent, though, that bodes very poorly for any chances at improvement.
posted by shivohum at 8:34 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


slowclap.gif

Even His failures illustrate His incredible-ness.


Not even sure why I'm responding to patronizing snark (seriously, capital-H "His"? I've been trolled better.) but to be clear, I'm impressed that someone in a position of power didn't let the inertia of their ego make them unwilling to lose face and scrap a key part of their pet project to start over and make it better if need be, because typically what you see is a defensive doubling-down on a bad plan when it comes to these things, with the idea of scrapping it explicitly off the table. I'm not simply impressed that the someone who did that happened to be Barack Obama this time, though it is a credit to him, hence my crediting him. Or "Him" I guess.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:34 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


If people think government is inherently incompetent, though, that bodes very poorly for any chances at improvement.

It's not inherently incompetent. It's inherently inefficient. They're two different things. The exchange is running fine now, it just came in late and overbudget, which is pretty much as good as government work gets.
posted by empath at 8:41 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


shivohum: "The point is that they didn't put up their websites without testing and deliver an embarrassingly crappy experience."

What you and a lot of other people seem not to grasp is that they have done both at times. They're just older now, so we've forgotten all the times Google was slow or plain didn't work or returned complete garbage.

We don't remember how Amazon used to commonly take 2 weeks to ship you a freakin' book or quite how clunky the website was in the early days. We don't remember that Netflix turnaround times on DVDs were about a week for the first few years of their existence.

Is that a good excuse for the initial failures of healthcare.gov? Nope, not in the least. But it should at least give anyone thinking about beating the drum of "why can the private sector do it?" pause. The answer is that they don't, in the main. Of course, it also completely ignores the fact that healthcare.gov has to interface with hundreds of legacy systems, some of which date back to before many of us were born, while none of Google, Amazon, or Netflix have to do that.
posted by wierdo at 8:46 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


I mean, just off the top of my head, I can think of 10 or 15 botched product roll-outs just from Apple and Google.

Has anyone forgotten Apple Maps? Google Wave? Google Plus?
posted by empath at 8:59 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


The exchange is running fine now, it just came in late and overbudget, which is pretty much as good as government work gets.

No, it actually was a massive failure at the beginning. It put itself out at the beginning and crashed, gave the wrong information to insurers, and did all kinds of buggy things that could easily have been prevented with proper testing.

It was not simply late and overbudget. It was shoddy.

--
They're just older now, so we've forgotten all the times Google was slow or plain didn't work or returned complete garbage.

I think these times were quite rare. I've used Google and Amazon a lot since the beginning and their failures are relatively negligible.

But it should at least give anyone thinking about beating the drum of "why can the private sector do it?" pause. The answer is that they don't, in the main.

I think they do. I think they absolutely do. Look how beautifully seamless something like UPS or DHL is despite truly staggering logistics. Look how grocery stores deliver an unbelievable and fresh selection on a daily basis with barely a hitch.

healthcare.gov has to interface with hundreds of legacy systems

This is true. But this has to be factored into proper design and engineering.

--
Has anyone forgotten Apple Maps? Google Wave? Google Plus?

Apple Maps was an actual botch. The other two were not botches but simply didn't satisfy the market. That's different.

Anyway, none of these were running on having told the American public that they'd be implementing a massive revolution in the healthcare system and having extracted billions of dollars for it from taxpayers.
posted by shivohum at 9:02 PM on March 3


Anyway, none of these were running on having told the American public that they'd be implementing a massive revolution in the healthcare system and having extracted billions of dollars for it from taxpayers.

I'm sorry, what? The budget for healthcare.gov was not in any way 'billions of dollars'.

And again, that is just something fundamental to the kinds of projects that government takes on -- the things that private industry can't or won't do. By necessity, they tend to be huge, unwieldy projects with unpredictable costs.
posted by empath at 9:04 PM on March 3 [5 favorites]


I think they do. I think they absolutely do. Look how beautifully seamless something like UPS or DHL is despite truly staggering logistics.

Can they deliver a letter to every home in the country on a daily schedule for $.30?

Look how grocery stores deliver an unbelievable and fresh selection on a daily basis with barely a hitch.

Do they give away free food to the poor and needy?

There is a difference in what the government does and what private industry does.
posted by empath at 9:07 PM on March 3 [9 favorites]


Well and the whole thing where there's massive government-provided-and-maintained infrastructure making the logistics-based businesses of your UPSes and DHLs even remotely feasible. And they still hand off packages to the USPS a lot of the time.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:09 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


And again, that is just something fundamental to the kinds of projects that government takes on -- the things that private industry can't or won't do. By necessity, they tend to be huge, unwieldy projects with unpredictable costs.

Wait, are you a libertarian? You appear to be making the conservative case for small government, everything government does being inherently late, overbudget, unpredictably priced, and possibly botched.

Actual liberals should be incensed that government runs so poorly and should insist that it needn't be so.
--
Can they deliver a letter to every home in the country on a daily schedule for $.30?

We'll never know, since the USPS has a legal monopoly on the delivery of letters to mailboxes.
posted by shivohum at 9:11 PM on March 3


Has anyone forgotten Apple Maps? Google Wave? Google Plus?

Apple Maps was an actual botch. The other two were not botches but simply didn't satisfy the market. That's different.
--shivohum

Now Google Buzz, that was a botch.
posted by eye of newt at 9:12 PM on March 3


You appear to be making the conservative case for small government, everything government does being inherently late, overbudget, unpredictably priced, and possibly botched.

I'm making a realistic case for limited government intervention in situations where private industry can't or won't provide an appropriate solution to a problem -- in this case the problem is one of providing 100% of Americans with health insurance. If it were something that private industry could do, they'd have done it already, so now we have to do it the expensive, inefficient government way. Sometimes things just have to be done at great cost because it's the right thing to do.

And sure, you can always work to make it better and more efficient, but the fact that a project is expensive and inefficent is not on its own a reason not to go through with it.
posted by empath at 9:15 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


Sometimes things just have to be done at great cost because it's the right thing to do.

I don't think anyone actually disputes this, it's just a really poor thing to focus on and a terribly complacent way of looking at how things operate. Certainly it helps make sure that no more such programs ever happen since hey, even liberals admit the government is shit at doing things.
posted by shivohum at 9:21 PM on March 3


Well screaming about how horrible healthcare.gov was certainly doesn't encourage more big government projects, either. It wasn't horrible. It was right in line with almost every other big government project, and it's working fine now.
posted by empath at 9:25 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


It was undoubtedly horrible and botched, and it needs never to happen again.

Admitting that is the first step to making sure things work better and actually gaining people's respect. Trying to shrug your shoulders and say well, that's just how it works simply makes people contemptuous of government. That's why President Obama admitted the crap rollout. He was honest about it; at least you can say that much.
posted by shivohum at 9:28 PM on March 3


I don't think anyone actually disputes this, it's just a really poor thing to focus on and a terribly complacent way of looking at how things operate. Certainly it helps make sure that no more such programs ever happen since hey, even liberals admit the government is shit at doing things.

It's less "the government is shit at doing things" and more "some things are really shitty to do" and if the private sector won't touch those things with a ten foot pole, well, they still need doing.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:28 PM on March 3 [10 favorites]


I'm amazed by people using Amazon as an example. Does no one remember the Internet Bubble? Pets.com? WebVan? eToys?

Amazon was the exception--a needle in a haystack that survived when the haystack blew away. No one thought that Amazon in particular would succeed and all the others would fail (except for a handful of very wealthy people).

So are we to run our government like an Internet bubble company and hope that it is the one in a million that makes it?

Considering the scale and time--much, much bigger in scale and faster than anything any Internet startup has attempted, and the fact that after restructuring it is actually succeeding, it simply boggles the mind. How can you compare this program to Google and Amazon, almost 20 years after they were founded as small companies?

I am really quite amazed at the negative outlook and can only attribute it to all the massive negative press that certain parties are throwing and that this is actually succeeding.

Now that is depressing.
posted by eye of newt at 9:39 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]



I'm amazed by people using Amazon as an example. Does no one remember the Internet Bubble? Pets.com? WebVan? eToys?


I'm so old, I remember when Amazon would melt down on Black Friday. Half the joke about "Cyber Monday" was that because by that point it the website might actually be responsive.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:41 PM on March 3 [10 favorites]


and more "some things are really shitty to do"

But I don't think it's inherently any more complicated than a number of other things the private sector does; it's just not profitable for the private sector to do, but that doesn't make it inherently impossible to do right.

Look, no matter how complicated it was, is there any excuse for rolling out the website without testing it properly? It's just unconscionable.

At a minimum, if the government couldn't do it properly, it should have budgeted enough money to hire really good private contractors instead of Websites-R-Us. It should have paid the private sector enough money to do it properly and it should have appointed an independent and really well-credentialed expert with sufficient authority to spearhead the whole thing.

The fact that this is in fact exactly what they did after things crashed suggests they could have done it before too!
posted by shivohum at 9:42 PM on March 3


I think these times were quite rare. I've used Google and Amazon a lot since the beginning and their failures are relatively negligible.

That is a very rigorous data set you have. Bravo.

If it were something that private industry could do, they'd have done it already, so now we have to do it the expensive, inefficient government way.

Don't buy into his bullshit framing. Other governments provide better care for far less money than our Almighty Private Sector ever could.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:49 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


At a minimum, if the government couldn't do it properly, it should have budgeted enough money to hire really good private contractors instead of Websites-R-Us.

They'd have had to rewrite the federal contracting rules to do that.
posted by empath at 9:53 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


> Has anyone forgotten Apple Maps? Google Wave? Google Plus?

Huh? Google Wave worked! Google Plus worked. Apple Maps worked, more or less - it didn't fall down under the load at least, though the quality of the maps data was subpar.

These products worked - they just weren't popular (Apple Maps has improved in popularity due to Apple's monopoly tactics).

There's a big difference between building a building that people don't particularly like, and building a building that falls on people's heads...

As I've pointed out here before, the website for the Affordable Care Act is a simple form-filling application (me: 30 years experience in software engineering). There's no inventory, there's no need to accept payments, there's no multimedia, there's no communication between users, there's very little data per user, there's no search over all users or indeed over any quantity data at all, there's really not much to it. There are a moderately large number of forms that you need to be able to select from, but there simply isn't $300 million worth of work in there.

The issue is simple - it's unsexy boring work - but more, I'm sure the whole thing was systematically looted in the same way that pretty well everything involving our government is looted these days.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:05 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


> They'd have had to rewrite the federal contracting rules to do that.

So did they have to rewrite the federal contracting rules in order to get it to work, after it fell on its butt the first time?

This idea - "It's broken, and that means we can't ever fix it" - gets tiresome.

Do remember that they were in fact passing legislation to do this. It's not like the fact that government contracting is broken is any mystery to people. They could have easily included a streamlined contracting basis, it's not like the Republicans were going to vote for it anyway.

But that $300 million+ is a feature, not a bug. Lots and lots of people got very rich off this.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:08 PM on March 3


The issue is simple - it's unsexy boring work - but more, I'm sure the whole thing was systematically looted in the same way that pretty well everything involving our government is looted these days.--lupus_yonderboy

Yes, and who is doing the looting? Corporations.
posted by eye of newt at 10:50 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]


There's no inventory, there's no need to accept payments, there's no multimedia, there's no communication between users, there's very little data per user, there's no search over all users or indeed over any quantity data at all, there's really not much to it.

They had to create a back-end that interfaced with every insurance company in the country, as well as tax information and so on. Have you done any work with legacy health insurance computer systems and federal tax systems? It's definitely not as easy as making an api call to google maps or whatever.
posted by empath at 11:49 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


>>Do you remember what those sites were like when they first launched?
>Yes, I remember they didn't make promises they couldn't keep. They started small, and did what they did well, and expanded from there.


Okay, this statement has just been bugging me and the fact that people seem to be taking it at face value is just making it worse. Let's put it to bed, shall we?
Three days after launch, Mr. Bezos got an email from Jerry Yang, one of the founders of Yahoo. "Jerry said, 'We think your site is pretty cool; would you like us to put it on the What's Cool page?' " Mr. Bezos later recalled. "We thought about it some, and we realized it might be like taking a sip from a fire hose, but we decided to go ahead and go for it." Yahoo put the site on the list, and orders soared.

By the end of the week, Amazon took in over $12,000 worth of orders. It was hard to keep up. That week, the company shipped just $846 worth of books. The following week brought in nearly $15,000 worth of orders, and the team was able to ship just over $7,000 worth of them.

At launch, the site wasn't even truly finished. Mr. Bezos's philosophy was to get to market quickly, in order to get a jump on the competition, and to fix problems and improve the site as people started using it. Among the early mistakes, according to Mr. Bezos: "We found that customers could order a negative quantity of books! And we would credit their credit card with the price and, I assume, wait around for them to ship the books."

During the first few weeks, everyone at the company was working until two or three in the morning to get the books packed, addressed and shipped. Mr. Bezos had neglected to order packing tables, so people ended up on their knees on the concrete floor to package the books. He later recalled in a speech that, after hours of doing this, he commented to one of the employees that they had to get knee pads. The employee, Nicholas Lovejoy, "looked at me like I was a Martian," Mr. Bezos said. Mr. Lovejoy suggested the obvious: Buy some tables. "I thought that was the most brilliant idea I had ever heard in my life," he said.
Full article at:
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970203914304576627102996831200
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:55 PM on March 3 [18 favorites]


Those who work on these massive IT projects think it was a fairly decent success.
Those who don't work on these massive IT projects think it was an unmitigated disaster.

Nobody in the first group was allowed to say "you know what, this is really fucking hard and if we want to do it properly it will cost a lot of time, money and effort." This is because the moment they finished talking someone would say "No it won't!! We'll do it for fuck all and it'll take a week!!!!". Sometimes they're from the second group and by the end of the project they'll be in the first, but usually they're just lying.

It's been like this since before there were people in the first group and it will be like this after we're all dead.

And this my child is why, to paraphrase a great man, no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for conservatives. They want a world designed to fail all but the very few. I want a world where you can say "we need this and it will cost as much as it costs because we need this". Sure there may be corruption, inefficiency and some will exploit our trust for greed and selfishness, but as it is now those things are guaranteed.
posted by fullerine at 1:23 AM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I am really quite amazed at the negative outlook and can only attribute it to all the massive negative press that certain parties are throwing and that this is actually succeeding.

Government "IT infrastructure" projects like this *are* different than building something for the private sector. They're more complicated because of politics, how the projects are set up, the need to integrate with legacy systems, etc.

And I think it is reasonable if your President says something is going to launch something on X Date, and that no one will be negatively impacted, that you should be able to bank on it.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:00 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


And I think it is reasonable if your President says something is going to launch something on X Date, and that no one will be negatively impacted, that you should be able to bank on it.

Well. Sure. Obama fucked up. I don't think anyone is denying that. But on a governmental clusterfuck scale where 0 is the moon-landing and 10 is Chernobyl, this was about a 2, at worst.
posted by empath at 2:06 AM on March 4 [10 favorites]


And it's not like there isn't graft and corruption and waste in private industry.

Apparently it's a hell of a lot less than in government


Not really, as anti-government program fanatics often find out when trying to prove their point. And as I've said in previous threads, government-run healthcare in the US runs more efficiently and with less fraud, waste, and abuse than the private sector (half as much as of 2010). That they had an issue with putting together the website isn't trivial, but prior history points to "private industry" fucking it up a lot more while spending a ton more money.

Look how beautifully seamless something like UPS or DHL is despite truly staggering logistics.

For all the "truly staggering logistics" UPS or DHL has to deal with, the ones USPS have to deal with are multiplied a hundredfold, often picking up the slack where UPS and DHL can't or won't (such as rural delivery) without their name on the label.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:04 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


I find it hard to imagine anyone who's ever dealt with UPS/FedEx/DHL more than once describing the experience as seamless. Not necessarily to beat up on those companies but I've had serious problems at times with all of them and in general, many fewer issues with USPS.
posted by octothorpe at 5:01 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


But I don't think it's inherently any more complicated than a number of other things the private sector does

I'm not even a software guy and I know how incredibly wrong you are. How many private sector projects have to interface with hundreds of legacy systems, all of which present their information in different and mutually contradictory ways?

Someone posted a link to the recentish post about the difficulties in getting this site off the ground. Might be a good idea to read it before saying things like that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:01 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Okay, this statement has just been bugging me and the fact that people seem to be taking it at face value is just making it worse. Let's put it to bed, shall we?

So let me get this straight. This big problem is that Amazon took maybe an extra week to ship and sometimes Amazon gave its customers money. To fix these problems, Bezos got on his hands and knees along with his workers and made it work within a matter of weeks.

I see a pretty stark difference here between that and a system that didn't send their insurance papers correctly -- that told people they were insured when in fact they might not be. And a difference between Amazon, a tiny startup, and the federal government of the United States.

--
the ones USPS have to deal with are multiplied a hundredfold

Yeah right. The USPS has a legal monopoly, has atrocious customer service, and has numerous indirect subsidies (e.g. no need to pay state and local taxes). And there's a reason businesses still use Fedex and UPS over USPS.

I think all the government apologetics for this project are stupid. Government can work better. This rollout was shit; everyone should admit it; and things should work better in the future. It could start by, for example, paying bureaucrats more, like they do in Singapore where top bureaucrats earn in the millions, and coupling that with getting rid of the tenure that allows worthless bureaucrats to hang on to their jobs forever. We need a culture of ruthless competence in the government.
posted by shivohum at 5:56 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


"We need a culture of ruthless competence in the government."

Who will bell the cat?

Shivohum: Whatcho smokin' man? Gimme some o dat!
posted by Goofyy at 6:07 AM on March 4


The combination of high salaries and lack of tenure would create a massive and corrupt political machine because all the jobs would be pay offs.
posted by empath at 6:13 AM on March 4 [5 favorites]


coupling that with getting rid of the tenure that allows worthless bureaucrats to hang on to their jobs forever.

The upside to working for the government - where your pay, work record and everything else is matter of public record, and people aren't afraid to help you lose your job if you do anything at all politically active - is that you can't be fired just because there is a new Governor and he wants to give your job to the mistress of his BFF senator from Fond Du Lac.

True story.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:17 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


And there's a reason businesses still use Fedex and UPS over USPS.

Feel free to look it up, but both those companies use USPS for much of their final delivery leg at this point. Also the USPS supports people across the US, including people in communities that are not profitable to provide service. FedEx and UPS don't have to support everyone in the way USPS does, so they can cherry pick the easy things to service.

Much like the difference between a private industry software project and a massive new governmental infrastructure project.
posted by winna at 6:26 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


Apple Maps was an actual botch

Apple Maps was in far better shape at launch than Google Maps was at its launch. The only difference is that when Google Maps launched it looked like futuristic space magic so nobody really cared if it had some locations mislabeled. When Apple Maps launched it was no longer futuristic space magic so everyone loudly compared it to the thing that had had a decade's worth of fine-tuning already.

Google Wave? Google Plus?

Huge marketing and communication failures. Not technology failures. They worked great, it's just that nobody understood how (Wave) or had any desire (G+) to use them.
posted by ook at 6:46 AM on March 4


I just wish they'd hire some proper developers to re-do Research.gov.

It's an f'ing nightmare, hardly even an improvement on the completely dysfunctional Fastlane, which was the bane of my existence over many of the last 8 or so years. I would always end up on the phone to my research administration office having them re-set my credentials every single time I needed to use it, which was at least once a quarter.

But then, vis a vis public vs. private sector, my private university's web platform for research compliance is such a nightmare, still, that I have seen it reduce competent scholars to tears.
posted by spitbull at 6:47 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Although as I think about it, the worst examples of information design I can think of in my private sector world (of universities and scientific research administration) are all due to the strangling weight of governmental compliance requirements under an alphabet soup of laws and agencies that the universities are terrified of crossing. So they design "compliance" systems that indemnify them, passing the impossible contradictions on down the line to the end users, who are then exposed personally for non-compliance. Whew, thank god my university with its billions in endowment has covered its ass -- with me, trying to keep my poor little bank account above minimum balance so I don't get charged fees.

I'm a progressive liberal. I believe government is important and necessary, and I see how right wing political ineptitude and bad intention has crippled the public sector's ability to innovate or serve the demand for its services. But even so, after a long period of dealing both directly with public sector technology platforms and private sector ones hobbled by absurd compliance requirements out of a magical realist novel, I think there is merit to saying that public sector regulation on private enterprise, while necessary, can in fact be heavy handed and go too far. There is literally no room whatsoever for personal ethics to guarantee ethical conduct in modern research administration. I often wonder, if you can't trust people to be ethical without oversight and enforcement of their smallest decision processes, what's the point of having professions at all?
posted by spitbull at 6:55 AM on March 4


But on a governmental clusterfuck scale where 0 is the moon-landing and 10 is Chernobyl, this was about a 2, at worst.

Let me guess: You already had health insurance.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:24 AM on March 4


There is a difference in what the government does and what private industry does.

Indeed. Unfortunately there are too many people who take efficiency to mean run like a business, but there isn't or shouldn't be a profit motive in government.

And business efficiency includes colluding with other businesses to rip of your own workers. Using sweat shop labour, avoiding and/or reducing taxes, etc.

I do a lot of data integration projects, and they are very difficult. This project does indeed speak to the difficulty in getting a project executed correctly within the government but it also serves as an example of getting a project that was botched fixed fairly quickly as well.
posted by juiceCake at 7:31 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The USPS has a legal monopoly, has atrocious customer service

I know NYC's post office is pretty dire, but this has never been my experience (in five different states). For starters, if USPS can't deliver a package, I don't have to go to a sorting location on Industrial Road #7 out in the middle of nowhere.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:32 AM on March 4 [11 favorites]


Let me guess: You already had health insurance.

Not really sure what that has to do with anything.
posted by empath at 7:35 AM on March 4


It seems that this project was a mess, and also that "privatize everything" is a dumb solution. Yes, both of those.

* Oversight of the website development process was a mess. Not enough people at the top seemed to understand how to run a software project.
* A lot of the (private) contract work was a mess.
* The process for picking government contractors needs a major overhaul.
* Building an app that complies with a complicated law and interfaces with a zillion legacy systems is (in my opinion as a developer) way more complex and painful than coming up with the next Instagram or Twitter totally free of constraints.
* Cherry-picking two of the most successful private web companies (Google and Amazon) as evidence that private industry is super efficient is not a great argument.

The problem with relying even more on private industry to do things for the government is that their primary motive is to make money, and in this case that means "make money off the government". And as far as my last point (cherry-picking), I've worked in the software industry for 17 years, exclusively in the private sector. I've seen some mind-bogglingly bad things, and I've worked almost exclusively at companies that you'd call "successful". Examples:

* Having a new CTO come in and dictate that a team of 50+ developers all switch to Java, despite them having tons of Microsoft/.NET experience, and the company's troubles having nothing to do with the technology stack.
* A company with 50+ developers spending high six figures hiring a well-known outside IT contractor to spend over a year building a simple app that 3 guys later did a working prototype of in a week or two.
* A company derailing its focus to have a hiring frenzy of 20+ extra developers (increase of 50%) and then laying everyone off less than a year later. Then they hired people again and had a successful IPO because yay!
* (not my company this one) The biggest private insurer in my state (whose initials are the same as British Columbia) failing to roll out a new internal app that was supposed to roll out a year ago, and telling all the (non-technical) staff that no leave was allowed in January due to the rollout. Then no leave in February due to the rescheduled rollout. Then no leave in March ... so far. And everyone loves them! They are the market leader!

So I'm saying that this site project was a mess, but that private industry is also a mess and has various strategies for hiding their messes that aren't available to the national government.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:59 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


And a difference between Amazon, a tiny startup, and the federal government of the United States.

Whups! Private industry rollouts and healthcare.gov *aren't* comparable again. Hey, this is fun!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:32 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Cherry-picking two of the most successful private web companies (Google and Amazon) as evidence that private industry is super efficient is not a great argument.

It also called survivor bias. Many companies run just as competently failed. Looking backward the present always seems inevitable.
posted by srboisvert at 9:15 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


> Have you done any work with legacy health insurance computer systems and federal tax systems? It's definitely not as easy as making an api call to google maps or whatever.

I have worked with some relentlessly terrible legacy systems, though not these specific ones. That's why I made some generous estimates - and then multiplied them by a factor of ten at the end. (Do note that as far as we can tell, that was NOT the part that fell over - it was the front end - but it's hard to tell.)

It's looking like the website is going to cost about $1 billion by the time it's all said and done. That's a lot of money - a HUGE amount of money.

That would buy you 100,000 computers installed in data centers along with load balancers, routers, UPSes, operators and everything else you can think of, and 2000 man-years of top-flight programmer time, if you split it 50:50.

I believe that each machine should be able to handle 1000 simultaneous sessions even if badly written, so let's go with a tenth of that!, 100 sessions per machine, maximum load of 200,000 people, that's only 2000 machines, let's double it again to 4000 machines, that's about $20 million (including support, data centers, etc), let's double it again to $40 million, which leaves you with enough money for over 3500 man-years of engineer time at a generous $200k salary and $50k overhead.

There's no way that this project wasn't relentlessly looted.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:42 AM on March 4


spitbull: I just wish they'd hire some proper developers to re-do Research.gov
A-fucking-men.

posted by RedOrGreen at 9:54 AM on March 4


The USPS has a legal monopoly, has atrocious customer service

Not my post office people. They are very nice. friendly, and helpful. They've also recently extended their evening and week-end hours.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:01 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Those who work on these massive IT projects think it was a fairly decent success.
Those who don't work on these massive IT projects think it was an unmitigated disaster.


This is basically how I feel about it. The Healthcare.gov launch has been a lot like watching a medical drama on TV as a doctor: it's a vehicle for the realization that it's easy to spout nonsense and sound like you know what you're talking about.

I've been on the inside of some large Obama administration IT projects as well as a career's worth of IT projects outside the fed space. (As an aside, I became so disgusted with the whole federal consulting scene that I left DC for California in 2012.) As lupus_yonderboy says, this project was certainly a massive source of free money for a lot of the usual contracting suspects. This kind of profiteering is absolutely par for the course. In the early days of this situation I thought it might actually lead to some real change in the way the GSA schedule works, but our fiscal watchdogs are busy elsewhere, apparently.

Here's something else that I haven't really seen anyone discuss. What impact do you think it has on an organization trying to accomplish a goal when some of the people in positions of power over it are going full-bore non-stop about how it's evil and will destroy America and usher in a tide of the horrible, dreaded, terrifying, unthinkable socialism?

We can't just pretend that this work went on in a vacuum where the executives managing it and the people doing the work were totally oblivious to this ceaseless stream of bile.

Do you really think the True Believer Republicans in charge at these companies did their best work? Does it really make sense that you can have people on TV saying the vile things which have been said about the ACA and its supporters, without those comments having any impact on the work? How many repeal votes have there been now, 50+ or more? Contrast this to how many sessions of Congress have dealt with ensuring that this team has all of the resources and support that they need to be successful.

I'd like to see Lockheed or whoever build an aircraft carrier while the Navy is busy holding votes on whether or not they should use boats anymore and half of Congress is holding hearings on the subject of whether or not it is moral that man should fly like the birds.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:21 AM on March 4 [13 favorites]


I'd like to see Lockheed or whoever build an aircraft carrier while the Navy is busy holding votes on whether or not they should use boats anymore and half of Congress is holding hearings on the subject of whether or not it is moral that man should fly like the birds.

Good analogy, and an interesting hypothesis, but Lockheed has ensured that this situation will never, ever happen by having facilities in each and every congressional district.
posted by scolbath at 10:30 AM on March 4


All this talk of botched rollouts and not one mention of last year's SimCity launch? How soon we forget...
posted by brookedel at 10:35 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


We need a culture of ruthless competence in the government.
You know that bit in Good Will Hunting when Ben Affleck's character, in a ridiculously ill-fitting suit, sing-songs the word "retainer"

Imagine that's me but the word is LIBOR
posted by fullerine at 10:57 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Well that's it, shivohum's nuanced and sensitive argumentation has convinced us all. Let's roll it back! Shut 'er down! Forget the whole thing and go back to dying in the streets, that was the preferable circumstance.
posted by kaspen at 11:44 AM on March 4


In a totally unexpected side note, I designed the t-shirt mentioned in the TIME article (and shown on the cover/inner page pic)!

"I had no idea who this guy leading the call was, and you couldn’t hear a lot of it," recalls Dickerson, who was wearing a T-shirt sporting an image of a nuclear reactor over the word Science! when I met him three weeks ago in the Roosevelt Room across from the Oval Office."

So my shirt was in the whitehouse!
posted by Jezztek at 12:20 PM on March 4 [8 favorites]




Not really sure what that has to do with anything.

What that means is that someone with insurance probably does not have the necessary perspective to be able to wave away how badly things were, even if the situation may now be somewhat improved.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:57 PM on March 4


Here's the perspective from 100% of the people I knew that didn't have insurance:

Before October 2013: It's fucking impossible to get health insurance
October/November 2013: It's really fucking hard to get insurance, but at least I know I'll have it
2014: I now have fucking health insurance

Then again, they don't believe Obama is literally Hitler, so maybe that's clouding their perspective.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:44 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Yeah I was about to say, based on reports from friends and family without health insurance, they had to wait 2 months longer to sign up for insurance than they thought they would, and some of them paid slightly more than they expected to. That was about the long and short of the horrific tragedy that was the healthcare.gov roll out.
posted by empath at 8:06 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


That was about the long and short of the horrific tragedy that was the healthcare.gov roll out.

Few apparently knew how bad things were or whether this was even solvable by 2014. (Seriously, the lengths some of you go to sweep this under the rug is breathtaking.) More to the point, if you had insurance, you're in no position to be glib, even if we got lucky this time and things were somewhat fixed in time for people to sign up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:19 PM on March 4


What would have happened if they didn't get it fixed in time? People without insurance would have continued to not have insurance for another month or two? I mean, realistically, what was the worst case scenario here beyond things being exactly as bad as they were before the roll out?
posted by empath at 9:23 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Dickerson was so adamant about the need to forgo finger pointing and move on to the next play that during one stand-up in mid-November he demanded a round of applause for an engineer who called out from the back of the room that a brief outage had probably been the result of a mistake he had made.
Just want to call that bit out.
posted by Skorgu at 1:59 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


in an age where the private sector produces technology like Google and Amazon, what possible excuse is there for the federal government to be so inept in the first place?

Google and Amazon pay their developers six-figure salaries?

That gets close to one aspect. Throw in the role of legacy, the uncertainty of state participation, and the need to account for edge cases and marginal groups because government doesn't have the private sector's option to ignore them.

Elsewhere, there's an attempt to do core government digital services in-house, and contract out for other services that are more commoditised. But even that relies upon a basic consensus on what constitutes a core government service, and there are plenty of people in elected office in the United States who believe that the answer to that question is "nothing" or "maybe lots of soldiers but that's it."
posted by holgate at 3:35 PM on March 5


I think if the government were to create an organization that parallels something like the Army Corps of Engineers and put them in charge of the implementation of projects like this, there would be no shortage of talented and qualified people looking to take part. You could even model it along the lines of a civil service organization and work out agreements with employers so that people can take time off to contribute without risking their jobs. (My understanding is that there is a group of people on weeks or months long sabbaticals/leaves of absence from Google, Facebook, etc. basically living in dorms in DC and working 24/7 on Healthcare.gov.) You'd get both people who are fresh out of school as well as veterans who are tired of doing empty corporate work and are looking to do something meaningful. I think it would really be seen as a badge of honor.

I also think this applies broadly to all of the disciplines required to successfully execute a project like this. It's sad that such an idea is politically untenable. I just don't fundamentally don't get why so many people have such a strong desire for this sort of self-inflicted incompetence.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:27 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that there is a group of people on weeks or months long sabbaticals/leaves of absence from Google, Facebook, etc. basically living in dorms in DC and working 24/7 on Healthcare.gov.

Any cite for this? Curious.
posted by inigo2 at 5:27 PM on March 5


Unfortunately not offhand, no. I saw someone on Hacker News with facebook email soliciting interested people to email them and I've seen similar requests go out on my network, but I don't have anything solid beyond that.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:35 PM on March 5


The USPS has a legal monopoly, has atrocious customer service

When I moved to Los Angeles, I mailed all my possessions there, which proved to be considerably cheaper than renting a truck to drive it cross country. The woman at the counter who helped in the process was so nice and so helpful that we sent her a postcard when we arrived.

My other guys don't even bother to ring the doorbell when they deliver packages. They just hid the packages under my welcome mat. I once ordered a six foot ladder and literally came home to a six foot box with a welcome mat on top of it.

Amusing, but, on the whole, I have found USPS's customer service to be preferable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:31 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


My biggest customer service pet peeve is how FedEx will always, always just put the "attempted delivery, sign here" sticker on the door without actually knocking and attempting delivery. I have to stay home, watch for them and ambush them to get my package on the day I expected it.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:40 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


What would have happened if they didn't get it fixed in time? People without insurance would have continued to not have insurance for another month or two?

People might have applied for healthcare, thinking their application went through when it actually fell through the technical cracks. Meanwhile, they give up their prior insurance. Then when they need a procedure, they get one, but of course the insurance that they thought they had won't pay and the insurance they had before they no longer have. Nightmares ensue.
posted by shivohum at 12:17 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I think if the government were to create an organization that parallels something like the Army Corps of Engineers and put them in charge of the implementation of projects like this, there would be no shortage of talented and qualified people looking to take part. You could even model it along the lines of a civil service organization and work out agreements with employers so that people can take time off to contribute without risking their jobs.

Code for America: "Bringing together local governments and technologists to make better cities for everyone" :P (being a client ;)
posted by kliuless at 12:12 PM on March 9






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