Just when you thought that Republicans could not communicate effectively House Speaker John Boehner cut to the heart of the problem with the Obamacare website.
On the House floor yesterday, he said:
“How can we tax people for not buying a product from a website that doesn't work?
By now everyone knows what a disaster the Obamacare site is. Readers of this blog had advance notice from commenter Dennis. Before the stories started appearing in the press Dennis explained the problem in the comments to this linked post.
Given that I am not remotely competent to explain the story, for today I leave it to Andrew Couts, a self-proclaimed supporter of Obamacare, someone who wants the site to work, to tell the story.
Writing in Digital Trends Couts explains:
It’s been one full week since the flagship technology portion of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) went live. And since that time, the befuddled beast that is Healthcare.gov has shutdown, crapped out, stalled, and mis-loaded so consistently that its track record for failure is challenged only by Congress.
The site itself, which apparently underwent major code renovations over the weekend, still rejects user logins, fails to load drop-down menus and other crucial components for users that successfully gain entrance, and otherwise prevents uninsured Americans in the 36 states it serves from purchasing healthcare at competitive rates – Healthcare.gov’s primary purpose. The site is so busted that, as of a couple days ago, the number of people that successfully purchased healthcare through it was in the “single digits,” according to the Washington Post.
What’s the problem? Couts continues:
The reason for this nationwide headache apparently stems from poorly written code, which buckled under the heavy influx of traffic that its engineers and administrators should have seen coming. But the fact that Healthcare.gov can’t do the one job it was built to do isn’t the most infuriating part of this debacle – it’s that we, the taxpayers, seem to have forked up more than $634 million of the federal purse to build the digital equivalent of a rock.
Ought we to conclude that the experience shows us yet again that, in many areas, government bureaucrats, being accountable to no one, tend to waste enormous sums of money? Couts suggests that the answer is Yes:
Given the complicated nature of federal contracts, it’s difficult to make a direct comparison between the cost to develop Healthcare.gov and the amount of money spent building private online businesses. But for the sake of putting the monstrous amount of money into perspective, here are a few figures to chew on: Facebook, which received its first investment in June 2004, operated for a full six years before surpassing the $600 million mark in June 2010. Twitter, created in 2006, managed to get by with only $360.17 million in total funding until a $400 million boost in 2011. Instagram ginned up just $57.5 million in funding before Facebook bought it for (a staggering) $1 billion last year. And LinkedIn and Spotify, meanwhile, have only raised, respectively, $200 million and $288 million.
Naturally, Couts feels a need to defend government workers. He blames it on the procurement process, as though some wicked genie had invented this process against the best judgment of the bureaucrats:
… the failure of Healthcare.gov isn’t because the people in our government are inept mouth-breathers who regard the work as a meaningless burden, but because the factors that play into which companies receive government contracts, a process called “procurement,” are fundamentally broken.
“Contracting officers – people inside of the government in charge of selecting who gets to do what work – are afraid of their buys being contested by people who didn’t get selected,” writes the author. “They’re also afraid of things going wrong down the line inside of a procurement, so they select vendors with a lot of ‘federal experience’ to do the work.”
As you suspected, when things go wrong, government bureaucrats throw more money at the problem. What could be wrong with that? For one, the people who receive the money are the ones who caused it:
And when things still go wrong, they simply throw “more money at the same people who caused the problem to fix the problem.”
TheWashington Post arrives at the same conclusion:
“The episode is all too typical of how government creates IT services,” said Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs, the research arm of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for more government transparency. “The procurement process tends to select for firms that are good at navigating the procurement process, not providing good IT services for the dollar.”