Tech Contractors Reject Blame For HealthCare.gov Mess - InformationWeek

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10/24/2013
02:14 PM
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Tech Contractors Reject Blame For HealthCare.gov Mess

Contractors point fingers at each other and the government as they attempt to shift responsibility for healthcare website problems.

In a quest for answers about Healthcare.gov's massive failure this month, politicians queried the contractors responsible for the mess at a Thursday House hearing as the contractors did their best to stay out of the hot seat.

"[The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] serves the important role of systems integrator, or 'quarterback,' on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance of the overall Federal Exchange," said Cheryl Campbell, SVP at CGI Federal Inc., a contractor that developed a portion of the exchange. CGI Federal is also responsible for FederalReporting.gov and Medicare.gov.

The contractors at the Energy and Commerce hearing blamed the government and each other for the glitches, mostly skirting their portion of the responsibility in their written testimony.

Healthcare.gov launched Oct. 1, and was largely unsuccessful in registering the 3.7 million Americans who attempted to gain access to the site in its first week live.

[ There's plenty of blame to go around, starting with our elected officials. Read Dysfunctional Congress Hurts Government IT. ]

The contractor responsible for the registration process, Quality Software Services, Inc. (QSSI), swerved away from a statement of responsibility concerning the process's widespread failure. QSSI developed the enterprise identity management (EIDM) function, which allowed users to secure accounts and gain access to the marketplace.

Campbell was quick to point out QSSI's shortcomings. "The EIDM serves as the 'front door' to the Federal Exchange that a user must pass through before entering the [Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM)]. Unfortunately, the EIDM created a bottleneck that prevented the vast majority of users from accessing the FFM," she said.

QSSI's rebuttal? There are lots of moving pieces.

"While the EIDM plays an important role in the registration system, tools developed by other vendors handle critical functions such as the user interface, the e-mail that is sent to the user to confirm registration, the link that the user clicks on to activate the account, and the Web page the user lands on," said Andrew Slavitt, EVP at Optum, which owns QSSI. "All these tools must work together seamlessly to ensure smooth registration."

All contractors testifying cited the unanticipated volume of consumers as a significant reason for the site's glitches.

Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) took a stern tone as he evaluated the development process and the many "broken promises."

Upton stressed the hearing wasn't to find blame, but to encourage accountability and transparency -- although the contractors seemed to be more interested in dodging bullets than stepping up and taking responsibility.

"Over the months leading up to the Oct. 1 launch, top administration officials and lead contractors appeared before this committee, looked us in the eye, and assured us repeatedly that everything was 'on track,'" Upton said. "Except that it wasn't, as we now know all too well. So why did they assure us the website would work? Did they not know? Or did they not disclose? That’s what we are looking to find out, with the contractors today, and with Secretary Sebelius next week."

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Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
10/25/2013 | 8:38:54 PM
re: Tech Contractors Reject Blame For Healthcare.gov Mess
It looks like the government has taken my suggestion A: Hiring someone else to fix what's broken. The White House has announced it's choice:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10...
Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
10/25/2013 | 4:32:31 PM
re: Tech Contractors Reject Blame For Healthcare.gov Mess
If I hired a contractor to build a house, I might be ultimately "reponsible," but if the contractor and related subcontractors failed to perform as expected, I would a) fire them and find others to do the work; b) halt payments to the incompetent crew; and c) sue the crap out of them for wasting my time and money.

No amount of finger-pointing is going to get the system back on track. Congress should be more focused on providing a working service. How? A) Consider hiring someone else to fix what's broken; B) Cosider buying/leasing technology from insurance companies that have demonstrated proficiency in this area; C) Sue the crap out of the prime contractor for failure to perform.

Unfortunately for the ACA, the collapse of the online registration system means that portion of the program is shut down for the time being. On the plus side, Americans can continue to register by calling a toll-free number to speak to a live operator -- and that may be easier for most of them anyway.
Alex Kane Rudansky
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Alex Kane Rudansky,
User Rank: Author
10/25/2013 | 1:31:33 PM
re: Tech Contractors Reject Blame For Healthcare.gov Mess
Most amazing to me is the complete lack of accountability coming from both sides--the government and the contractors. The government is looking for outside answers when they should be looking internally and finding the weak link within their own structure. Contractors, in typical Washington style, think they can somehow skirt the issue by pointing fingers. Both sides are responsible and both sides need to step up and take responsibility, or the problems won't be going away any time soon.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
10/24/2013 | 8:52:34 PM
re: Tech Contractors Reject Blame For Healthcare.gov Mess
Unanticipated volume should never be an excuse for the failure of a website that should have been built to accommodate a large volume of visitors.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
10/24/2013 | 7:18:40 PM
re: Tech Contractors Reject Blame For Healthcare.gov Mess
There's should be no excuse for inadequate testing. Did mandated deadlines force administrators to launch these sites before they were ready? I'm was a believer that single-payer might help drive excessive cost out of health care, but if our first experience with a government-provided resource is incompetence, it's not going to inspire trust or get people behind making the new approach work.
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