Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The glitch is in the leadership

Kathleen Sebelius is the good soldier by claiming that President Obama didn't know about the looming problems with the website before the launch date of October 1. Heck, these problems were already being talked about publicly over the summer that they hadn't allowed enough time for testing the system. Back in March, the head of the HHS agency in charge of building the website was making public statements about possible problems with the website design. Democrats were asking questions back in February.

Why weren't they letting the President know about such possible problems so he wasn't traveling around the country making speeches promising how easy the website was going to be to use? Why wasn't he asking questions to make sure that everything was going fine? That is what a leader does for an important program. Bad news shouldn't be hidden from him. He should be asking the proper questions so he gets all the information he needs. Are they sharing with him now the extent to the problems? Is he reading all the reports that are coming out now about all the problems? It sure did seem that he didn't understand the depth of the problems when he came out to give his Billy Mays impression in Monday's appearance. Does he know what tech experts are saying now about the difficulties with fixing the website that make the administration's promise that it will all be fixed up right and tight in three to four weeks. Politico quotes one consultant who explains the difficulties that they're facing.
“It’s like you’ve built a single-story house with no basement, and then the family comes in and says, ‘Oh, we made a mistake, we wanted a multi-story house with a basement.’ Then you have to strip everything down and start over,” said Schuyler. It’s impossible to know for sure without seeing the internal details, Schuyler said, but “it really feels to me like a core design flaw.”
Allahpundit links to this article about how the "tech surge" of the "best and brightest" isn't going to be able to fix the problems.
The government can’t accept free services from companies, so HHS would need to find additional budget to pay for help.
Another challenge is that CGI, Quality Software Solutions, Booz Allen, and the rest of the contractors would need to agree to open up their code. It’s a huge project — the New York Times quotes one specialist who said that 5 million lines of code would need to be rewritten before the website can function properly.
“That’s the problem here. Even if the government recruits talented engineers from consumer tech companies, whoever builds this site has to take care of it,” said Kocher. “I don’t see this ‘best and brightest’ idea working in practice.”
And the problems with the exchange might not be obvious to a smart Silicon Valley programmer from an Apple or Google. This kind of a project is complex and requires deep domain expertise. As John Engates, the chief technology officer for cloud company Rackspace, put it, “I think the downfall of is that they need to integrate with numerous legacy databases: IRS, DHS, Social Security, and myriad state agencies. Any one of those running slow could be the bottleneck.”
They really need to start all over, but that would be politically impossible for the administration to agree to. So they'll lumber on with a faulty system patchworked together. Allahpundit points to one more difficulty they'll be facing.
The final irony here, by the way, will be if the “tech surge” manages to solve the relatively easy problem of how to create a valid user account before it solves the more daunting problem of calculating subsidies or sharing accurate information about the user with insurance companies. That would enable a huge spike in the volume of enrollments before the system is able to process those enrollments correctly; suddenly you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people in the queue instead of tens of thousands right now. In that sense, it’s oddly analogous to delaying the mandate while keeping the rest of the law up and running, which risks an industry death spiral. Either the whole thing runs smoothly or the whole thing should be taken offline until it can run smoothly. Partial solutions are the surest path to the worst-case scenario.

Throughout history, there are stories about rulers and leaders who are so autocratic that their aides and flunkies fear giving them the bad news. I'm not implying that Obama is such a leader. But he may very well be the type of administrator who makes it very apparent that he doesn't want to hear about problems.

He should have been informed, as the Washington Post reported, that it had failed a test just a few days before its launch.
Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health ­insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.

Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.
And it wasn't just a few days earlier that people knew there would be problems.
About a month before the exchange opened, this testing group urged agency officials not to launch it nationwide because it was still riddled with problems, according to an insurance IT executive who was close to the rollout.

“We discussed . . . is there a way to do a pilot — by state, by geographic region?” the executive said.

It was clear at the time, the executive said, that the CMS was still dealing with the way the exchange handled enrollment, federal subsidies and the security of consumers’ personal information, such as income.

One key problem, according to a person close to the project, was that the agency assumed the role of managing the 55 contractors involved and had not ensured that all the pieces were working together.

Some key testing of the system did not take place until the week before launch, according to this person. As late as Sept. 26, there had been no tests to determine whether a consumer could complete the process from beginning to end: create an account, determine eligibility for federal subsidies and sign up for a health insurance plan, according to two sources familiar with the project.

People working on the project knew that Oct. 1 was set in stone as a launch date. “We named it the tyranny of the October 1 date,” said a person close to the project.
So why was that date so set in stone? It was for political reasons; the administration didn't want to let Republicans have any sort of short-term political victory by admitting they weren't ready to launch.

Think about that: they put political reasons above the problems they would be giving Americans who are depending on getting the insurance that they've been promising people for three years. But then, is that attitude any surprise to anyone?

And now they're airing misleading ads with individuals claiming that the site is "very easy to use" by someone who says it took her three days to enroll or by another guy who is a Democratic activist. That's the best they can do?

And I'm sure that no one is surprised that the "most transparent administration" ever is now evading answering questions.
Sebelius would not answer questions about reports of prelaunch testing that may have signaled problems with the site before it opened to the public, nor would she give specifics on how many people have signed up for health insurance through the portal. “What we can tell you is that thousands of people have signed up,” she said, offering that more than half a million accounts have been created on the site. She declined to say if there is a possibility that the individual mandate requiring Americans to buy insurance or face a penalty might be postponed because of the technical problems many have faced in purchasing insurance through the federal Web portal.
If Obama really cared about being up front with the American people, he'd be instructing Sebelius to be out there every day reporting on what is being done and what challenges they're facing. He'd be making sure that members of his administration were following the model set by Giuliani after 9/11. Keep people informed and don't hide things from them. But that has never been the model of leadership for this administration. And certainly not when there have been complaints and crises. Then they try to evade questioning or mislead people so that they can hope the media will lose interest and things will get swept under the rug. Think about the problems with the stimulus, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the IRS. And the media have cooperated. But it's going to be really difficult to avoid answering questions about their beloved Obamacare as it starts to affect millions and millions of families.