The Conversation

NY Times on Obamacare: 'Five Million Lines of Code May Need to Be Rewritten'

Another damning report from the NY Times makes it clear that the health exchange which opened October 1st is weeks (possibly months) away from being fully repaired:

Administration officials approached the contractors last week to see if they could perform the necessary repairs and reboot the system by Nov. 1. However, that goal struck many contractors as unrealistic, at least for major components of the system. Some specialists working on the project said the online system required such extensive repairs that it might not operate smoothly until after the Dec. 15 deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting in January, although that view is not universally shared.

In interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.

This Sunday story marks the 2nd or 3rd time the NY Times has pointed out that the decision to put CMS in control of the entire IT effort was a glaring error. A previous story called it a "highly unusual decision." It's as if the Times is trying to tell us there is a scandal here but won't quite come out and say it. From today's story:

One major problem slowing repairs, people close to the program say, is that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency in charge of the exchange, is responsible for making sure that the separately designed databases and pieces of software from 55 contractors work together. It is not common for a federal agency to assume that role, and numerous people involved in the project said the agency did not have the expertise to do the job and did not fully understand what it entailed.

Having CMS in control of final integration is like a homeowner managing his own home addition. Sometimes that can work well and even save money but it really depends on the homeowner.

In the case of Obamacare, everyone involved knew that CMS was not equipped to manage this massive IT job. They had no in house experience capable of doing it and clearly the results demonstrate that they failed. Here's how the Times put it in a previous story:

An internal government progress report in September 2011 identified a lack of employees “to manage the multiple activities and contractors happening concurrently” as a “major risk” to the whole project.

The real question, which the Times has yet to ask, is why CMS was put in charge? Why hand the most important job to an ill-equipped government agency when there are companies who do this for a living ready to take the job? Clearly the concern was not about saving money. We know that the administration tripled the website's budget over the past year in an attempt to get it working.

I've suggested before that there is a fairly obvious explanation: They wanted to retain control of the project so they could put politics before a working website if needed.

Whereas an outside contractor would have demanded the release of regulations needed to design the site prior to the 2012 election, CMS would not.

Whereas a private contractor might have leaked information about the looming failure to the media in order to insulate themselves from it, CMS would not.

In short, whereas a private contractor would have put the good of the company before the good of the administration, CMS would not. CMS and HHS would be willing to take the heat for the good of the Obama team. And isn't that exactly what has happened. For three weeks people have called for Sec. Sebelius to be fired and the administration has continued to support her, probably because they saw this all coming months ago.

Journalists covering this beat have yet to point out that the roll out disaster was not an accident, it was a self-inflicted wound motivated by political calculus coming from inside the White House. If there is another, less incriminating, explanation for this highly suspect decision we have yet to hear it.


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