Top IT Official: Obamacare Website Offers 'Teachable Moment'

Tuesday, 29 Oct 2013 07:43 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The glitch-plagued rollout of the Web portal for Americans to sign up for Obamacare insurance is nothing to be ashamed of, offering "a teachable moment" for government," the nation's top IT official said Tuesday.

In his first public remarks in seven months, Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said the problems that have nearly crippled Healthcare.gov provide an important object lesson for future government IT projects, Nextgov reported.

"Our goal, No. 1, hands down, the president reminds every day: Get this thing fixed, make sure it's working, and meet Americans' expectations on this," the former Microsoft executive told an IT leadership conference in Williamsburg, Va., CIO.com reported.

"As an aside, our focus, my focus, is also about what can we learn from this. How can we learn? And what can we take from this experience to say we shouldn't do things this way?"

VanRoekel said there should be pride in "the fact that something this complex, this integrated to legacy systems — and there are mainframes out there this thing hooks to — was done at Internet scale and taken online in this way."

"Just the fact that we have transactions moving between agencies using open data, using modular development, using technology in a way that moves really from a 19th- and 20th-century government paper approach to an online approach is something we all should be proud of," he said.

VanRoekel didn't say how the administration is addressing the problems that have marred the website since its launch Oct. 1. But he said his nearly two-decade career with Microsoft showed him that product launches often need substantial retooling.

Recounting one instance when the division he oversaw at the software giant had to recall a product from the market, VanRoekel drew a parallel with the healthcare rollout, CIO.com reported.

"It is a complex project," he said of the government website. "There is incredible complexity out there, and in that complexity sometimes . . . things just don't go the way you expect."

"Even in large multinational companies this stuff happens, and I think the key there is, what do you take from this?" he said. "Is this a teachable moment for you?"

VanRoekel stressed that given the technical challenges the site's builders faced in getting the portal up and running, the launch, for all its problems, was a commendable step forward into the digital era.

"One of the key things that I want to note, and this doesn't get a lot of coverage and a lot of discussion out there in the public, is the boldness by which the approach was taken on this project," he said.

"Our goal here is to definitely fix this thing, make sure it's working, meet people's expectations," he said, "because I can assure you that our expectations are even higher than those outside of government. But I think we should be proud of the boldness by which we approached this."



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