Healthcare.gov Contractors Declare: Not It

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.

I Really Have To Say This?

I don’t need to say that there is no correlation between the implementation of a health care law and the launching of a web site, right? I wasn’t going to go there, even though it’s been in the news for lo these many weeks, because it’s so completely assanine that I feel like I’m talking about Twilight or American Idol. (No, really, vampires aren’t real! Your votes really don’t matter!*) I have not read the ACA law, but I feel confident in saying there was no HTML or Javascript in there, so it stands to reason that the problems with Healthcare.gov are entirely unrelated to whatever problems are in the law. Saying the healthcare law is bad because the web site is broken is like saying speed limits are bad because your car broke down. Or … something like that.

Here’s the problem with Healthcare.gov: It’s a government web site! Come on. Who didn’t expect it to crash and burn on the first day? It would have been a miracle if it did work. IT resources in the federal government are a bit limited, in case you didn’t know. That’s probably a bit harsh. It’s just that government is supposed to be in the business of collecting and spending our tax dollars, not running gigantic enterprise web sites. When has the federal government ever launched a high profile web site for the entire nation to use on the same day? Never, I say. That is an extremely daunting task even for the pros.

Also, Anonymous is probably DOSing it to death. 😮 Just kidding. But someone probably is trying to.

  • Heh, I don’t know that. The votes, I mean, not the vampires. But they’re probably fixed.

Weird Things That Freak Me Out

Weird things that freak me out: The sound that one of those county trash cans makes when rolling it to the end of the driveway for pickup. You know, that plastic-wheels-on-gravel sound that, in the quiet of early dawn before work, seems louder than a jet plane, no matter how slow you try to go, and you just know everyone in the neighborhood is running to their windows to see what is making all that racket.

It’s Nothing Like A Credit Card!

I was watching C-SPAN last night and saw Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaking about the debt ceiling and whatnot … you know, politician stuff. That’s not the point. The point is he stumbled into a pet peeve of mine. He was describing the debt ceiling and what it means to raise it. Naturally he went to the go-to analogy that everyone uses when discussing the debt ceiling: It’s like paying your mortgage with your credit card. Or something like that. I can’t remember the exact analogy, but that’s not the point. The point is that he did what every politician does, which is to try to equate the operation of the federal government with the operation of an average family household.

Okay. Okay. Let me see if I can say this without my head exploding too much. The finances of the entire federal government in no way resembles the finances of your household or your checkbook. Let’s see if I can come up with some of my own analogies. Your household is like snapping together a couple of lego blocks, whereas the federal government is like building the Taj Mahal. Your household is like driving to the grocery store, whereas the federal government is like building a rocket to go to Mars and back. The point is that running the finances of your household is nowhere near as complicated as the federal government.

Now on the surface of things, I would agree that continually raising the national debt ceiling is probably not a great idea. It’s like raising your credit limit so you can buy more stuff, right? … … No! It’s nothing like that! It’s way, way more complicated than that. It’d be more like promising to pay someone for something, then using your credit card to pay for it because your paycheck doesn’t come in until next week, then paying off your credit card bill, then promising to pay someone else for something else, but that something else is more expensive than what you promised someone else you would spend, so you ask that someone else if it’s okay, and that someone else says sure that’s fine, then you go ahead and pay the first someone else with your credit card, then you pay off your credit card bill again. It’s like that but with about 50 million different someones. That’s more like what it really is. Assuming I even understand a tenth of what I think I understand about the debt ceiling, which is a dubious claim at best.

So politicians, pundits, and whoever else: Please stop comparing the federal government’s finances to our checkbooks. It’s wrong, and incredibly insulting to our intelligence.

See You Back Here In January

As I’m typing this, I’m watching on C-SPAN.org as the House is voting to adopt the Senate’s bill to fund the government until January and raise the debt ceiling until February, which the Senate passed today 81-18. Everyone expects it to pass, and at this moment I see 29 Republican Yea votes on the screen (compared to 42 Nay votes). I’ll be interested to see how Eric Cantor votes. I would assume he would vote Nay but he’s the kind of politician who will spend a lot of time talking about how bad something is and then vote for it anyway, so it would not surprise me to see him vote Yea on this.

(Why do they spell it “Yea” when it should clearly be spelled “Yay?”)

I’m reading some articles trying to see what exactly Republicans got out of this stunt, and I’m finding exactly nothing. I’m sure they got something but it’s probably not anything that journalists could understand well enough to write down on short notice. (Not that that ever stops them.) Oh, well, they got a joint committee to talk about spending cuts, that’s something they really, really wanted right? Because of how many times they said, “We just want to talk! That’s all we’re asking! Just sit down with us and talk!” (I say that with sarcasm turned to maximum.)

House vote passed 285-144.

See you back here in January I guess.

Back to the Senate We Go

So yesterday, with the prospect of the Senate jumping in and solving everything first, the House rushed to get their own world-saving legislation passed, presumably because Boehner knows that if the House is forced into a position to vote no on whatever the Senate is doing, his Republicans will lose any chance of coming out of this thing without the full burden of the blame for shutting down the government and destroying America’s credit rating. Sadly the House attempts ended in miserable failure, because of–you guessed it–House Republicans, who apparently continue to believe that they can still vote on the laws debated in prior legislative sessions. Today, however, we are assured (again) that the Senate deal is close and will save us all, and everybody will approve it, and everything will be back to normal. Until January. If House Republicans go for it. Which based on their past performance, you have to think they won’t. Because if they do, then they did all this for nothing. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/senate-leaders-close-shutdown-deal

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Seems to be some buzz now about a bi-partisan deal the Senate is cooking up to open the government and raise the debt ceiling. The deal sounds like it goes something like this: "Let’s do this exact same shutdown and debt ceiling drama again in February." Because it’s not so much a deal as it is a postponement of a deal. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/15/republicans-accuse-dems-overplaying-hand-as-budget-debate-shifts-to-sequester/

Here’s what I like about it though: It flips things around and puts the House in the position of saying yes or no, instead of the Senate. All this time the House has been putting out bill after bill, so they’ve been able to say with mock innocence, "Hey, we’re trying to do all this work but the Senate keeps shutting us down." Now we’ll get to hear the House dance around with some explanations for saying no.

Or I guess they could accept the deal and declare victory, though I’m not really sure what they’ve won. It sounds like there will be some concessions on Obamacare but nothing even remotely close to the "let’s just make it disappear" that they supposedly want.

DoD Civilians Back At Work

Something else I missed: Chuck Hagel put almost all of the DoD civilians back to work, thanks to “a liberal interpretation” of the post-shutdown bill that was meant to pay the military. So yeah, that was a big part of the shutdown right there. I’m starting to wonder if House Republicans might actually get away with this, because this seems like a huge win for them. Why would they care if a bunch of entitlement programs are the only things left shut down?

It’s Okay, It’s Just A Slimdown

I’m very late in noticing this but someone, somewhere (cough Republican headquarters cough), in the ongoing effort to re-brand Eric Cantor’s shenanigans as anything but shenanigans, had a meeting and proclaimed that the “shutdown” is actually a “slimdown.” Because a “slimdown” doesn’t sound nearly as bad as a “shutdown,” and actually sounds kind of good, right? Because everybody likes to slim down and lose some weight so their pants fit better. FOX News cough the unofficial news agency of the Republican party cough is completely on board with it. In fact I see FOX News (and only FOX News) “slimdown” headlines in my feed reader going back to October 1. They must have prepared ahead of time.

To be fair, “slimdown” technically is more accurate–it’s just very amusing to see Republican strategy at work. Maybe they think it will poll better with weight-conscious housewives.

Why Jon Stewart Usually Resonates

On Fridays I often sit down and watch the week’s episodes of The Daily Show on the Comedy Central web site, which is a god-awfully painful experience, but that’s another topic. (Okay, it’s because of the Internet commercials you have to watch over and over and over again, time after time, same one every time, multiple times in a row, kind of like that “apply it directly to your forehead” commercial except with 15-second commercials instead of a 1-second sound bite.) So tonight I’m catching up on what Stewart had to say about the shutdown, and I’m finding out as I type this that he said a lot of the same things that I wrote this past week, and he was even the origin of that football analogy I heard! Maybe this explains why I’ve liked Jon Stewart since I first saw him on MTV back in the dark ages. I guess when you look at an issue without layers and layers of self-delusional partisan rhetoric in the way, and just focus on the absurdity of it, you can’t help but come up with a consistent view of who did what, when, and why. I don’t think Congress realizes yet that people are smarter now thanks to constant information overload from every direction. You can’t just say something and expect people to believe you just because you’re a person of authority, because we now have tons and tons of evidence that people in authority don’t know what they’re talking about. Part of that is because of Jon Stewart, so it all comes full circle.