Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Procurement Hell

On the occasion of Healthcare.gov (neé Obamacare dot com)’s first anniversary, Pomona College Magazine has a story about how the web site was fixed.

Healthcare.gov, the sign-up website that was the signature element of President Obama’s signature initiative, was a technological disaster. People couldn’t sign up even if they wanted to-the site would break, or fail. Delays were interminable. Information got lost. Customer service was about as good as you’d expect from a cable TV company. The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for the new health care system, couldn’t seem to get it working.

The fact that the solution was so mundane and unremarkable speaks to two things. One, that the government’s rules for procuring I.T. projects are horrifically broken. The people who were initially hired (for hundreds of millions of dollars) were absolutely unqualified and egregiously incompetent.

Two, that the only reason the government keeps hiring these people is because their in-house capabilities are even more lacking. The article dips its toe into the sales pitch to get more nerds into government:

[Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and the current Deputy CTO of the United States] thinks the pitch might actually work—and not just because of capitalism. “The consumer internet has influenced the way a generation feels about doing things together,” she says. “You have a generation of people who value collective intelligence and collective will—not necessarily collective political will, but the ability to actually do things together.”

Software designers and engineers are already political, Pahlka and Dickerson are saying; it’s just that the web generation is ignoring the greater good. Going to work at Twitter is a political choice just as much as going to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I give the worst sales pitch,” Dickerson says. “I tell people, ‘This is what your world is going to be like: It’s a website that is a Lovecraft horror. They made every possible mistake at every possible layer. But if you succeed, you will save the lives of thousands of people.’”

That is absolutely slanderous. Summoning the Old Ones is far less painful than federal I.T. procurement.