Less than a year after the Obama campaign’s mastery of technology helped him to a re-election victory, his administration spent $634 million on the Healthcare.gov website. Its fiasco of a launch on October 1 is already considered by experts to be one of the greatest technological failures in recent memory.
This odd juxtaposition of technological incompetence and excellence illustrates the painful reality that success in political campaigns often does not translate into success in governance.
The Obama administration’s Healthcare.gov website launch has far more in common with another epic web launch failure–the Romney campaign’s ORCA website get-out-the-vote disaster–than it does with the sophisticated and highly functional array of Obama campaign technology voter contact systems that set a new standard for political operational excellence.
John Casaretto, CyberSecurity Editor for SiliconANGLE, says the Obamacare website may be “the biggest tech gaggle ever.” According to Casaretto, “It is undeniable that this launch has been an incredible technical failure. Straight up – an absolute failure.”
“This is really playing out as a clinic in how not to launch a major website project, failing in every respect across the board, from planning, to the communications, to testing and everything in between,” Casaretto concludes. He faults the Obama administration and several vendors, from the primary contractor, CGI Federal, to supporting vendors Quality Software Systems Inc. and Booz Allen:
This is the government of course and history indicates that the exchange was probably built by a number of the cheapest available contractors through a bidding program, that is actually pretty close, but just wait until you hear about the money. The contractors behind the exchange were CGI Federal, who built the site, Quality Software Systems Inc. (CSSI) – a Canadian company that built the information hub, and Booz Allen who is responsible for enrollment and eligibility technical support. Somewhere in that soup of contractors, they built a site… for 50,000 to 60,000 concurrent users at a total cost (so far) of $634 million.
How could an administration that ran such a technologically superior political campaign in 2012 be responsible for such a huge technological failure in the first implementation of Obamacare, its defining legislative accomplishment?
As Breitbart News reported a month after Obama’s 2012 re-election victory, “the Obama campaign thoroughly dominated the GOP in the 2012 digital arena through superior management, innovative analytics, and the deployment of cutting edge technologies.”
Media consultant group Engage DC’s “Inside the Cave” report about the Obama campaign’s technology superiority described how “[t]hree world class technologists headed up a team of 300 technology geeks working out of Obama for America headquarters in Chicago, where their laser like focus on digital communications, technology development and implementation, and analytics gave the Obama campaign an order of magnitude competitive advantage over an outmanned and outhustled Romney campaign.”
In contrast, “[t]he Romney campaign was highly centralized and heavily staffed with political operatives, while the Obama campaign was more decentralized and technologist driven… Unlike the Romney campaign and the RNC, where technology decisions were in the hands of a small group of well connected political consultants.”
The Obama campaign technology team developed a number of innovative new technology tools, including Narwhal, “which synchronized data from multiple sources to build complete profiles of supporters”; Dashboard, “which enabled supporters to connect with supporters near them and take action from home”; Call Tool, “which allowed supporters in nonbattleground states to use their home phones to call voters in battleground states”; and Stork, “which transferred data from vendors to databases for querying.”
Testing of all all these new tools to make sure they worked was a key element of their wildly successful implementation. As Engage DC reported, the development of these cutting edge, highly functional tools was characterized by “rapid iteration, minimal barriers between developers and operations staff, heavy use of cloud technology, and constant testing to handle outages and heavy loads.”
In contrast, the Romney campaign’s ORCA get-out-the-vote system, Engage DC concluded, was a “traditional corporate IT project gone bad,” that was “launched on Election Day with no real user testing [and] could not add capacity.” Similar criticism has been leveled at the Healthcare.gov site since its launch.
Casaretto notes that “the administration was reportedly warned about this [that the potential the website would fail at launch]. Repeatedly. Major insurers, state health-care officials and even Democratic allies reported in the weeks and months leading up to the rollout that there were significant problems with the exchange, that it wasn’t ready. Yet they were reassured that all would be fine.”
As anyone who has visited the Healthcare.gov website since its launch on October 1 can attest, all was not fine then, nor is it likely to be fine in the foreseeable future. According to Casaretto, even the post launch “fixes” are debacles. “One of the most recent ‘fixes,'” he wrote, “was to reset the passwords of every single account in the system. So for that ‘fortunate’ minority that actually got to register at one point but didn’t get as far as the database – all of those people will now have to completely re-register because their account names will not be available.”
The failure of the Obama admin’s Healthcare.gov site is perhaps the best evidence yet of the superiority of free markets, rather than centralized planning, for the optimal provision of all goods and services–including health care and health care insurance–within an economic system. Anyone paying attention knows the only way to avert even greater health care debacles in the United States is to completely defund and repeal Obamacare.