On the Failure of Healthcare.gov 512pixels.net

The sputtering launch of Healthcare.gov is something I’ve been watching from a distance, but it’s troubling. On the one hand, a comparison of its reliability against other large websites is perhaps unwarranted, given the time those websites have had to ramp up to meet demand (and, let’s not forget that downtime still occurs for large web services — Twitter, anyone?).

But, on the other hand, it’s clear that it’s a complete mess. It might be because I’m outside the US, but if I try to visit Healthcare.gov, I am only able to see the default Apache “It works!” page — and, yes, I wholly appreciate the irony of this.

The source of these failures can be traced right back to the byzantine procurement process, as Adrianne Jeffries explains:

Because the procurement process is such a headache, agencies often lock in contractors for longer periods. This speeds things up, but it also gives preference to Beltway insiders and excludes smaller companies. As a result, new programming frameworks and development methods take a long time to reach the government. A company that has already bagged a 10-year contract has little incentive to innovate.

And Stephen Hackett adds:

Instead of trying to repeal the law, if the government should be spending time revisiting how it purchases and deals with IT. If that can’t happen, more than just healthcare will suffer in the future.

It seems like the procurement process was a nightmare in the pre-IT days; with the speed at which technology moves now, it’s even worse. This isn’t a problem with the Affordable Care Act, but rather a larger problem of how government contracts are awarded. The worst thing that could happen now is for the process to remain the same.