I have to say, a national controversy about a web site makes me giddy, because it’s something I understand. Most of the time the nation talks about economics, healthcare, women’s issues, social issues, wars, foreign policy, and other things that are subjective and far outside the realm of my everyday experience. But a web site? Designing one? Building one? Launching one? That’s something I can sink my teeth into!
I wish I were watching the testimony of contractors who worked on healthcare.gov on C-SPAN, but instead I’m reading a live blog of the "Monkey Court." http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/24/obamacare-website-testify-congress-live (Best line ever: "I will not yield for this monkey court!") For some reason, I can’t find any C-SPAN apps for Android, and of course the web site doesn’t work on Mobile Chrome.
From what I can tell, CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) was the government organization tasked with standing up the web site. http://www.cms.gov/ They in turn contracted out work to 55 different vendors for various pieces of the system. According to testimony I’m reading, the contractors are saying that each piece was tested thoroughly and worked perfectly before it was delivered to CMS, who was then responsible for putting it all together, testing it, and rolling it out. It’s extremely clear what the contractors are saying: "Everything worked fine when we delivered it, so don’t blame us."
In my experience, what they’re saying is plausible. It’s entirely possible that each piece of a system can work perfectly, but in the process of putting them all together (called integration), everything fails. It was said that CMS only had two weeks to test the integration. ("The integrated system was tested in the last two weeks of September," Campbell says.) That is a laughably brief amount of testing time for a project of this magnitude. Particularly a project with at least 55 different parts to get working together.
I would be really curious to hear testimony from CMS, if we ever get to hear it.
By the way, a "tech surge" to fix the web site is not going to work. Everybody knows that throwing more people at a software problem not only doesn’t help, it usually makes it worse. It’s one of the classic disconnects between management and workers in the IT field.