The Obamacare Web site is not Obama’s Katrina

There is a lesson Congress could learn from the Healthcare.gov (aka Obamacare) Web site meltdown, but seems determined to ignore: The US government is not terribly competent, in any administration, Demcorat or Republican, when it comes to information technology (IT) procurement.

It has been incompetent under Democrats, it has been incompetent under Republicans, and it overall the system seems to be getting less competent, not better.

But recognizing that fact would require Congress to conduct an actual investigation, rather than a banana court with the least credible House chairman since Joe McCarthy playing chief clown, namely Darrell Issa.

The short reason that Healthcare.gov didn’t work terribly well out of the gate is that the US government does not pay commercial wages to IT staff. So most folk in the system consider their job to be merely an apprenticeship to a much higher paid job in one of the private consulting firms whose role is, essentially, to pay IT staff a commercial wage, and sell their services at a 200-300% markup back to the federal government.

Instead, we have a long and rather tedious blame game with the Republican party attacking the administration for the non-performance of a Web site the Republicans have been actively trying to sabotage. The Republicans might believe this is going to help them in 2014, but let’s look at the history for a moment – did sabotaging the economic recovery effort help the Republican party win the Presidency in 2012?

The Healthcare.gov meltdown is also not, recent GOP talking points to the contrary, a repeat of George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina debacle.  First off, 1,833 people didn’t die when the Obamacare Web site glitched, and it didn’t cost the American people over $100 billion.

Revisiting Katrina for a moment, you might recall that George Bush flew out to California to have birthday cake with John McCain as Katrina was zoning in on New Orleans.

During the worst of Hurricane Katrina, George Bush celebrated John McCain's birthday in California.

During the worst of Hurricane Katrina, George Bush celebrated John McCain’s birthday in California, Aug. 29, 2005.

Before Katrina, the establishment media refused to notice the fact that every aspect of the Bush administration had been managed with spectacular incompetence. Katrina destroyed the myth that George W. Bush was a leader that had been carefully constructed in the wake of 9/11. Instead, people saw Bush giving cakes to John McCain and impotently surveying the devastation caused by Katrina from the window of Air Force One, reminding everyone that his real reaction to 9/11 was to disappear for several key hours while Peter Jennings put into words what the nation most wanted to know: Where was our president?

Comparing any of that to a failed Web site launch is a touch of melodrama the nation can ill-afford.

In the wake of 9/11, Democrats rallied to the Republican President to defend the country, and were promptly kicked in the teeth and denounced as traitors by the GOP. Rallying to the President damaged Democrats in the short term, but it benefited them in the longer term as everyone knew that the failures of the economy, the failure to catch Bin Laden, and the Iraq war fiasco were entirely the fault of the Republican party. The only blame that could be laid at the door of the Democrats was not opposing the Republicans early or loud enough to avert the disaster in the first place.

Republicans, on the other hand, cannot seem to stop themselves from exploiting any national tragedy, big or small (like a Web site glitching).  And they use that tragedy to undermine Democrats, and ultimately the country.  And then they wonder why the voters hold them responsible for their ongoing subterfuge and sabotage.

One other lesson that Democrats and Republicans both need to learn is that President Obama is not going to be president very much longer. Obama might be remembered for an epic Web site fail – but he’s more likely to be remembered for insuring millions of people and, oh that’s right, saving the economy from an imminent depression brought on by a Republican president.

Regardless, it is hard to see how Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden are going to be blamed for the Web site glitch in the 2016 elections. The people who really care about the Web site not working are the people who want to use it to buy their health insurance. These are not the kind of people who are going to be sympathetic to the far-right of the GOP, the Darrell Issas and Ted Cruzs of the world, leading the charge against Obamacare.

After all, the GOP’s plan is to target people who want insurance by offering them another way, why would any Republican think that they can attract those people by a ‘fix’ that entails taking their insurance away.  Good luck with that in 2016.

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43 Responses to “The Obamacare Web site is not Obama’s Katrina”

  1. Milo_Bloom says:

    I’m sure you are operating at your maximum mental capacity. Try to not overheat. ;-)

  2. karmanot says:

    I calls it like I see it nitwit.

  3. Milo_Bloom says:

    You’re that sad little fellow that lost the argument last time we conversed. I see the whole “name calling” thing remains firmly at the center of your methods.

  4. Milo_Bloom says:

    LOL, it would appear you are trying to move on ;-). It’s still utter incompetence, and the government is the one ultimately in charge of the project. So; government incompetence.

    I’m sure it will never be fixed, though it will probably rise to the level of incompetence occupied by other government organizations. The DMV comes to mind. The TSA is another.

  5. karmanot says:

    In your geek dreams

  6. karmanot says:

    “Same crap as the web site.” Thank you dingle berry troll.

  7. The_Fixer says:

    Oh, no doubt that this project was mismanaged by both the government and the contractors. And any contractor that accepted this job without the proper preparation, and with as little time as has been allotted, was nuts to do so.

    But your initial assertion was that it is not likely to ever be fixed is something that I can’t agree with. It will be fixed to the point of acceptable performance, which is what a lot of IT projects wind up being.

  8. Milo_Bloom says:

    No, but I’ve never had a project launch fail completely on the first day due to a total lack of preparation. I doubt you have either; smart people prepare extensively for large jobs like that. They also apply competent people to the problem. This is hardly an “acceptable amount of bugs” by any measurement.

    While I don’t understand your desire to make excuses for your government, I appreciate that you are sincere. Having said that, it still makes me no more surprised that they failed completely, nor does it make me any more willing to be a victim of that incompetency by involving them in my healthcare. And yes, it’s still accurate to deem this one of Mr. Obama’s “Katrinas.”

  9. MyrddinWilt says:

    You do need managers who understand the technology they are buying.

    I have worked as a contractor in state government. Never again. The client had no idea what they were buying and the prime contractors they had hired were incompetent. They had hired my firm only for the name because the prime wanted to go public. We were supposed to be adding some sort of pixie dust to their prospectus.

    The ‘programmer’ who was supposed to implement my spec did not know how to code in C, which is a pretty low bar. But they didn’t know Java or C++ or any of the mainstream languages. All they knew was how to write database schemas in Delphi. That is not what I call a programmer but they were probably billing out at $2000/day.

    People who don’t understand system architecture are not competent to manage that type of project. All they end up doing is to contract out the whole thing in one monolithic lump to a contractor who then works to expand the statement of work with repeated additions and amendments and jack up the price.

  10. The_Fixer says:

    So all of your code is bug-free, and runs perfectly the first time out? You would be the first in an industry filled with empty promises.

    I know, being as I deal with this stuff constantly. Nothing is ever perfect the first time out. And software often “ships” with what is deemed to be an acceptable number of bugs. Otherwise, I would not have a job.

  11. Milo_Bloom says:

    As an IT person, if my customers had your low standards, I could afford to be a very lazy man. ;-) Since they (and apparently, the rest of the country) feel that something one is hired to do should work, you’ll forgive me if at least I continue to meet expectations, and do what I promise.

    It’s simply another in a long list of incompetencies displayed by our government, and another reason they should have nothing to do with anything as critical as healthcare. You can give excuse after excuse, but the fact remains they failed. It’s hardly a surprise, and it part of a clear pattern of government ineptitude. This one is on Mr. Obama’s watch, and is in a sense his “Katrina.” Well, one of his Katrinas, anyway.

    I think I’ll leave my bettin’ money on Louisiana.

  12. The_Fixer says:

    Chuckleworthy, but not true.

    This is an extremely large IT undertaking. It was unreasonable to expect it to be properly running in the time that was allotted. That much is true.

    Even looking at smaller IT projects, such as operating systems, they are never completely done. Evidence: All computer operating systems, from Android to Windows and on. Now take a look at other large IT projects. You don’t think that Amazon worked on the first try, do you? How about Google? Hell, everything Google does is in beta. Why? Because computing as a science, if it were compared to human development, can only be considered to be in its juvenile stages.

    They will make the Healthcare web site work acceptably at some point. It, like all computing projects will never be perfect. That’s the nature of the game.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    There are no valid comparisons between Katrina and the Romneycare/Obamacare website.

    There are solid comparisons between the sharp drop in confidence/truthfulness polling for Bush, Clinton, and Obama in their second terms and they all reflect the fact that each of them made sharp right turns. Clinton deregulated and caused the current depression. Bush pursued his genocidal war against Arabs and muslims and Obama continues to promote austerity measures.

    Obama is now a lame duck. He’ll just have do what Bush did and hope for the best while ignoring the reality.“I did the best I could do. I’m also very comfortable with the fact that it’s going take a while for history to judge whether the decisions I made are consequential or not. And therefore, I’m not too worried about it.” http://www.thewrap.com/president-george-w-bush-tonight-show-jay-leno via Taegan Goddards Political Wire

    Only Bush could think that he’ll be forgiven for killing more than a million civilians in Iraq.

    The expected results of Obama’s right wing politics are now beginning to be felt. “A new CBS
    News poll finds President Obama’s job approval rating has plunged to the lowest of his presidency with just 37% percent approving of the job he is doing as president, down from 46% in October — a nine point drop in just a month.
    ” Taegan Goddards Political Wire

    Obama’s polling numbers will rise and fall a bit and if he continues to push austerity or the long death agony of the capitalist system produces more economic chaos, Obama may even reach the record lows of Bush, ending up the high twenties once or twice.

  14. Whitewitch says:

    It was just a temp job, I was hired with a “bunch” of other people – probably people that could get a quick security clearance for moving computers in a sensitive area. Competency might not have had a lot to do with it.

  15. perljammer says:

    You seem to have missed the point, which was that there is no evidence suggesting that government IT salaries have anything to do with the state of healthcare.gov.

  16. therling says:

    The more appropriate comparison is between Obamacare and Bush’s Medicare Part D.

  17. emjayay says:

    But the work was mainly done by contractors, whose employees are not government employees. You don’t have to be a top coder to manage a project.

  18. mark_in_toronto says:

    Bush’s response to Katrina was not the result of Democrats fighting Bush and Michael ‘Browny’ Brown to water-down FEMA’s response. As opposed to Republicans fighting Democrats on all aspects of ANY type of government-assisted health care. Their solution to “the busted for-profit health care insurance system we already had” was to tell people to ‘not get sick.’

    I was able to get on the ACA website, enter my former state (PA) and be offered a choice of several health care plans. The cheapest one was LESS than what I was paying when living in the US – right before my insurance company DROPPED me because I was getting too old.

    Other country’s leaders respond to emergencies.
    Other countries have successful government sponsored single-payer healthcare.
    Other countries take care of their citizens with many programs to help the needy.
    Other country’s governments don’t fight amongst themselves while their citizens suffer.

    A person’s opinion about Obama is not the embarrassment here – but this narrow-minded polarization in the US certainly is.

  19. MyrddinWilt says:

    I was not aware that the point about government IT wages and the hiring of contractors was remotely controversial.

    US government wages are frozen at 2010 rates. The very top base pay is $129K. http://www.fedjobs.com/pay/pay.html. That is for grade 15 on the very top step. Most government technical jobs are at step 12 or lower which is $60K

    In comparison, IT starting salaries are in the $80K range and mid range at a place like Cisco is $120K plus stock options.

    The allergy to easily checked facts suggests to me that you have some other agenda.

  20. Milo_Bloom says:

    …and yet it still has a better chance than Obamacare.

  21. Indigo says:

    That’s actually funny even though I sternly disapprove of the sentiment. Although, to be fair, allow me to point out that the French sold us Louisiana in the first place because they couldn’t fix it and more than 200 years later, the jury is still out on that project.

  22. Roman Berry says:

    BTW, in case it wasn’t clear from my last comment, the problem isn’t just the web site. Your entire column/article/blog post or what ever you want to call it is an embarrassment.

  23. Roman Berry says:

    I don’t think government IT salaries have anything to do with the fiasco that was the healthcare.gov rollout.

    And you’re right. That assertion was baseless.

  24. The_Fixer says:

    So, apparently, the government accidentally hired the right person? :)

  25. Roman Berry says:

    The short reason that Healthcare.gov didn’t work terribly well out of
    the gate is that the US government does not pay commercial wages to IT
    staff.

    That is what you call an assertion. You provide zero evidence for it, and in fact, all public evidence to this point says you just pulled the claim out of your nether regions. Everything you have to say is tarnished by the discredit you bring down on yourself right there.

    Stop being a fucking ObamaDem making excuses and start being a liberal with a brain.

    Not Obama’s Katrina? Sure. Katrina was a storm and a terrible response. There’s no storm here. But what there is actually may be worse. Obama (and those who just can’t seem to stop making excuses for him) already set back actual health care reform with a bill that has some reforms but mostly cements the busted for-profit health care insurance system we already had around our collective feet. What’s worse is that with more than three years to get ready, and knowing full well that it wasn’t ready, they blew it and then went live with a web site that didn’t work. And don’t hand me the “you can do it by phone” crap. I just spent a good amount of time on the phone tonight with a friend who tried for three and half hours yesterday to go that route. Same crap as the web site. The operators themselves couldn’t complete an app, and so they tried to start again only to get an error saying that they could not open another app while the first — you know, the one that not even they could complete — was pending.

    Obama is setting the ACA up for repeal. (Not that I was ever for this clusterf*ck of a giveaway to big insurance and big pharma bill in the first place.) What he has done is actually set things back. The bill itself was a HUGE setback to real reform. (Like I said, it cements the awful for-profit system we already had around our collective feet, and compounds the error by delivering citizens by the millions as serfs to for profit companies under the color of law.)

    Stop making excuses. It just makes you look…like an Obama ass Dem.

    (Sorry to be so crude, but this fucking pisses me off. Since Obama, loyal Dems remind me of nothing so much as loyal Republicans under Bush. Arghhhh!)

  26. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    Tole? Are you painting something?

  27. benb says:

    May the ambulance deliver you to the ER of the nearest County hospital for the ignorance you spout. Both my mother and father were and I can tell you —you don’t want to be triaged against the uninsured.

  28. emjayay says:

    In today’s news there was an internal report from I think back in April that outlined similar or the same factors you did.
    This is a management failure. The fact that various levels of government including NYC have screwed up IT development much worse than this even is no excuse. Sibelius’ head should roll on this one, even if that won’t really matter to the fixing of the site. She is responsible. She should go.
    Obama’s polling is way down because of the appearance of incompetence. Even though Bush’s Katrina failure isn’t the same, and Bush’s management was spectacularly bad from the beginning of his administration in every area (Iraq anyone? Justice Department? SEC? EPA?), Katrina is the kind of thing that got people’s attention. Very few people have either the interest or knowledge or critical thinking ability to form reasoned opinions, but only react to propaganda and the obvious.
    Obama needs to blame those responsible – and the blame always goes to the top. He can’t fire himself, but apologizing is not enough. He can shift the blame to Sibelius and the person who was directly in charge of the website development. Not a chief coder, but the government employee manager. He has to be seen as a man of action, not just an apologist. That is what everyone, particularly right winger/authoritarian types, need to see.

  29. Jim Anderson says:

    Millions of people are kicked off the health plans they chose. What is the death tole going to be for Obamas Katrina? We are told not having insurance can be fatal. The President either told a lie or is so emotionly disturbed he doesn’t know what the truth is.

  30. Whitewitch says:

    That is true…I am not incompetent….

  31. MyrddinWilt says:

    They were spectacularly incompetent where it comes to keeping government secrets. No data layer security at all.

    And don’t forget that before 9/11 they collected lots of information on terrorists but had no analysis capability. The FBI could not even do multi keyword search.

  32. Milo_Bloom says:

    “The Obamacare Web site is not Obama`s Katrina”

    Of course it isn’t… there is a chance they may one day be able to fix Louisiana. ;-)

  33. Naja pallida says:

    Not that I give any credence to the comparison to Hurricane Katrina, which is absurd on the face of it, if you consider the Harvard Study that came to the conclusion that around 45,000 people die every year simply because they do not have health insurance. How many people do you suppose will die before they get a chance to sign up for health insurance? How much money is being wasted while we let the next lowest bidder continue to fail to implement the system? How much money is being flushed down the toilet trying to kludge a for-profit system, instead of trying to implement something that we know works?

  34. perljammer says:

    I don’t think government IT salaries have anything to do with the fiasco that was the healthcare.gov rollout. It was the result of a combination of factors, including:

    — Short schedule caused by delaying the start of work until the 2012 election was past.
    — Complex law coupled with millions of words of regulations.
    — Incompetent government oversight of contractors.
    — Reluctance of lower-level government overseers to pass bad news up the chain of command.
    — Inadequate testing.

    Comparing this to Katrina is, of course, absurd. It is also absurd to lay the cost of Katrina in dollars and lives lost at the feet of the government rather than the storm. It is not absurd, though, to lay the blame for the current state of Healthcare.gov precisely where it has already been accepted and apologized for.

  35. Naja pallida says:

    The NSA has done a lot of things, but displaying competence isn’t one of them. They’ve spent billions developing the technology to amass huge amounts of data that they have no capability of parsing to actually put to effective use, nor any ability to secure it. But I do get your point. If we put the kind of money into the technology to get everyone access to health insurance that we put into the technology of logging everyone’s porn preferences, we could have the whole country signed up by now.

  36. Indigo says:

    I doubt you are incompetent.

  37. KC Jenner says:

    You say that, “The US government is not terribly competent, in any administration, Demcorat or Republican, when it comes to information technology (IT) procurement.” What about the NSA and their ‘information procurement’ of emails and telephones records? I suppose that department has more money in their budgets.

  38. Whitewitch says:

    I didn’t know somebody Indigo and it was still some nice butter for me.

  39. Whitewitch says:

    Totally – I got a nice gig once in DC (temp) moving computers from one building to another – easy, sort of fun and got paid UberWell…like way over well. Just cause I could unplug a CAT5 cord without fear!

  40. Indigo says:

    Yes, but then government contracts are the bread and butter of incompetent contractors who happen to know somebody who knows somebody.

  41. MyrddinWilt says:

    The irony is that they manage to pay them too little AND pay them too much.

    Instead of a commercial rate of $80-120K for a competent programmer they end up paying $200-400K for an incompetent one as a contractor.

  42. Monoceros Forth says:

    Look on the bright side: at least the GOP is finally, indirectly admitting that Bush screwed up royally.

  43. Whitewitch says:

    Wonderful article. I tried to say something like this to a blogger the other day – the government does not pay its IT people enough, and the government does not require them to stay up to date on new and advancing technology – that is what the contractors are for.

    If we would pay IT a fair wage..we would not have had this problem. But then you would have to change the entire government-IT working thing.

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