Real-Talk and the HealthCare.gov Scourge

It’s a shame journalism in the U.S. is the way it is. As a journalist, you find a “specialist” to explain gobbledygook to you to make your column sound as well-informed as possible but you end up finding a moron who doesn’t kow what he’s talking about just because it’s easy. Instead of getting an actual software developer to explain a software development problem, you get someone who doesn’t develop jack.

The sources are not programmers, because programmers would not speak in terms of lines of code with no further context (Auerbach, David; “5 Million Lines of Obfuscation;” http://slate.me/16uMjKq).

But all you keep hearing is how the White House is totally to blame for bungling the rollout of the health care website. Yes, ultimately the buck stops somewhere, but at the end of the day, the website was legally required to go live on a given day, bugs and deeply entrenched problems and all.

But the White House isn’t filled with programmers. The problem isn’t so much the White House or the Democrats as it is both the federal (and usually also the state) procurement process and certain specific software development organizations who won bids to develop for the government back in 2007.

CGI Federal’s winning bid stretches back to 2007, when it was one of 16 companies to get certified on a $4 billion “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity” contract for upgrading Medicare and Medicaid’s systems (DePillis, Lydia; “Meet CGI Federal, the company behind the botched launch of HealthCare.gov;” http://wapo.st/16uMeqc).

What does CGI Federal have to do with all this shit?

The sources also say that CGI Federal, which won the $90 million contract to develop healthcare.gov’s back end, was asked to replace the data hub, though this approach was abandoned as “too risky.” That’s a hint that the article’s sources seem eager to shift the blame to CMS, to the White House, and to QSSI, and away from CGI. The Times claims that CGI was not responsible for healthcare.gov’s “integration,” but the Washington Post’s Lydia DePillis reports that CGI Federal was in fact responsible for “knitting all the pieces together, making Quality Software Services’ data hub work seamlessly with Development Seed’s sleek user interface and Oracle’s identity management software.”

I have no idea who the Times’ sources were, but they sure sound like employees of CGI Federal. Because they almost certainly aren’t programmers, I’d guess they are probably mid- or high-level managers who are trying to salvage CGI Federal’s reputation. They may well be “specialists,” but their specialty is more likely the art of procuring government contracts.

This is to be expected. What’s less expected is that such anonymous sources would be treated with this degree of credulity by national reporters who lack technical understanding of their subject matter and are thus more likely to parrot whatever a “specialist” tells them (Auerbach).

Hate the site and lay the blame on the White House all you want, at the end of the day, the problem is much, much bigger than the mere White House. Why the hell are companies who have a terrible track record on software development (“Its performance on Ontario, Canada’s health-care medical registry for diabetes sufferers was so poor that officials ditched the $46.2 million contract after three years of missed deadlines [DePillis].) getting government contracts to develop its health care systems?

Good god, man. The problem isn’t so much the White House, this is yet another example of lobbyists lobbying for government contracts they don’t deserve.

For more on what’s wrong with the procurement process, check out this video:

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