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Tech Experts: Blame Government Practices for Health Website Fiasco

Image: Tech Experts: Blame Government Practices for Health Website Fiasco

By Dan Weil   |   Friday, 25 Oct 2013 11:48 AM

The problems plaguing Obamacare’s website, Healthcare.gov, stem from the way the government goes about purchasing its technology, say two Democratic tech experts.

"Much of the problem has to do with the way the government buys things," Clay Johnson and Harper Reed write in The New York Times.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation code, which comprises more than 1,800 pages of legalese, dictates how the government can go about it, Johnson, lead programmer for Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, and Reed, former chief technology officer of Obama for America, say.

Those complex rules "all but ensure that the companies that win government contracts, like the ones put out to build HealthCare.gov, are those that can navigate the regulations best, but not necessarily do the best job," the duo writes in Friday's Times.

"That’s evidenced by yesterday’s congressional testimony by the largest of the vendors, CGI Federal, which blamed everyone but itself when asked to explain the botched rollout of the new website."

Johnson and Reed see hope for government technology projects, given the success of digital efforts in political campaigns.

"In 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney thanks in part to a mix of private-sector-trained technology workers and a well-developed ecosystem of technologies available from competitive consultants," they write.

But, "a digital candidate will never be able to become a digital president if he can’t bring the innovation that helped him win election into the Oval Office to help him govern," the two techies say.

They acknowledge that HealthCare.gov needs to be repaired and offer a highly optimistic prediction that it will be "in a few days."

At a macro level, "we must find a fix to the federal procurement process that spares the government’s technology projects from the self-inflicted wounds of signing big contracts whose terms repeatedly and spectacularly go unmet," Johnson and Reed say.

Britain has created a cabinet office of technologists who are in charge of either creating the government’s technology or finding vendors to do it. The United States should follow suit, they say.

"The president should use the power of the White House to end all large information technology purchases, and instead give his administration’s accomplished technologists the ability to work with agencies to make the right decisions [and] increase adoption of modern, incremental software development practices."

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Report: Final Cost of Obamacare Website Tops $1 Billion
Obamacare Website Tested Only Days Before Launch

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