Why Healthcare.gov Sucks? Because They Hired Political Cronies, Not Internet Native Companies To Build It
from the you're doing it wrong dept
There’s been plenty of talk lately about just how screwed up the launch of Healthcare.gov has been. While any massively large-scale internet launch is likely to suffer some problems, the level of disaster on this particular project has been quite impressive. This has led some to wonder why this happened, especially given the reputation of President Obama’s “web-savvy” campaign team. The answers aren’t too hard to figure out, of course. First off, the campaign team is quite different from the team implementing this — which was handled by the Department of Health and Human Services. But, more importantly: it appears that the federal government basically handed this project over to the same crew of giant government contractors, who have a long history of screwed up giant IT projects, and almost no sense of the “internet native” world.
The Sunlight Foundation (link above) figured out the list of contractors who worked on the site, and noted that the big ones not only are well-known DC power-player insiders, but they’re also big on the lobbying and political contributions side of things. You’ve got companies like… Booz Allen Hamilton, famous for promoting cyberwar hype and employing Ed Snowden. There’s defense contracting giant Northrup Grumman. Then there’s SAIC — which I can’t believe can still get government business. This is the same firm that famously was given a $380 million contract to revamp the FBI system, on which it went $220 million over budget, and then saw the entire system scrapped after it (literally) brought some users to tears, and the FBI realized it was useless in fighting terrorism. SAIC is also the company that NYC Mayor Bloomberg demanded return $600 million after a city computer project (budgeted at $68 million) actually cost $740 million. SAIC has a long list of similar spectacular failures on government IT projects.
As you look down the list put together by the Sunlight Foundation, it’s all companies like this: giant monstrosities which are simply tied in closely with the government. All the large consulting firms are listed: Accenture, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey. What’s missing? Basically any company with even the slightest smidgen of experience building and maintaining large-scale, public-facing web-based apps. The list has no “internet native” companies.
Many, many years ago, I worked for an e-commerce startup here in Silicon Valley, and I ended up (sort of by default) in charge of trying to open up the government market for what we were doing. It involved meeting with a slew of all-too-slick, ex-politician, ex-military “consultants” with no technical knowledge whatsoever, who, for $15k to $25k/month retainers plus a (large) cut of any deal, would drink hard liquor and promise to “connect” us with big companies with government connections, and then help us sneak past the government bidding process to get no-bid contracts. It was an eye-opening experience that highlighted for me that getting government contracts in the tech world was very much about who you knew, rather than any actual knowledge, skills or experience. While this was quite a long time ago, it would appear that little has changed.