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It’s The Contractors, Stupid

Now that the government is open again, republicans are finally getting their opportunity to talk about something other than their cravenness and incompetence; the failure that is healthcare.gov. To be clear, the failure is limited to the website and in no way, shape or form extends to the ACA at large.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the launch of healthcare.gov was a monumental disaster. As an aside, the issues aren’t all emanating from just the federal site. Most of the state run sites were also poorly coded. We don’t have one giant federal failure, we have one giant federal failure and twenty some odd state failures.

Yes, the site was overwhelmed with traffic. But there were telltale error messages that are indicative of bad coding. There were sql errors, query errors, and javascript errors. These errors would not have been the result of overwhelming traffic. For those of you who don’t know much about software development (I’m not an expert, but I’m reasonably knowledgeable), the query errors and the sql errors indicate that there are issues with the back end and with the database. In other words, the bad coding goes all the way to the core. The javascript errors tell me the front end is also fucked up. These back end issues typically can’t be resolved in a few days, especially if the site isn’t taken completely offline while the code is reviewed. In other words, keeping the site live will prolong the repairs. Additionally, it’s much more difficult to find the errors in someone else’s code so fixing the problems is really challenging.

There doesn’t seem to have been much quality assurance testing done prior to launch. I literally can’t imagine that even a canned piece of QA software, didn’t pick up those query errors.

In discussing this disaster, everyone is missing the heart of the problem, which is the way in which government contracts are awarded. Our government doesn’t award contracts to a company that has a proven track record of successfully completing the type of task they’re being contracted to complete. Our government awards government contracts to companies that have a proven track record of securing government contracts. This ineptitude is often compounded by the practice of either awarding a contract to a crony, the biggest lobbyist, or someone’s nephew. The job almost never goes to the company most qualified to deliver the best result.

That’s what happened here. This is a case of an incompetent company getting a contract to do develop the ACA website. I haven’t been able to find out any details on who the contractor was, or the means by which this contract was awarded. I know there’s at least one journalist working on this, but the media is once again asleep at the wheel. We should be having a national conversation about the menace that are inept government contractors, and how they continue to be awarded for their incompetence with more government contracts. But thanks to the media, we’re once again missing the opportunity to have an important conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not absolving the administration from their responsibility in all of this. It is well within their power to award government contracts in a more effective way. They simply did nothing to fix the fucked up way in which we dole out federal tax dollars to contractors.

The Obama administration definitely failed here. But let me just say that it takes a special kind of stupid to conclude that the ACA is a failure on the basis of bad software coding. Making that conclusion really does take the kind of  simpleton that is beyond my comprehension.

That said, this situation isn’t a catastrophe since everyone has until March 31, 2014 to get health insurance before the $95 fine (you read that correctly, the fine is $95 or 1% of your annual salary) for not signing up is imposed. . The fact that they launched the site so far ahead of the deadline is a good thing. It’s inconceivable to me that these issues won’t be resolved before the December 14, 2013 deadline to sign up for coverage that is effective on January 1, 2014.

As we’re listening to the hyperbolic doomsdayers, let’s apply a little perspective to this situation. This fuck up didn’t kill anybody, unlike when KBR electrocuted  at least eighteen of our soldiers in Iraq. Personally, I would be delighted if delaying someone’s ability to find out how much money they were going to save on health insurance was the worst thing that an incompetent or greedy government contractor ever did.


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