1. Government officials and its contractors were in conflict, and some people — who? — made questionable decisions and demonstrated poor leadership.
[T]ensions between the government and its contractors, questionable decisions and weak leadership within the Medicare agency turned the rollout of the president’s signature program into a major humiliation.2.The Obama administration, dazzled by its grandiose idea of making a dazzling website, refused even to engage with the reality that was plaguing the computer technicians: It was impossible to meet the deadline with a website that even worked.
The prime contractor, CGI Federal, had long before concluded that the administration was blindly enamored of an unrealistic goal: creating a cutting-edge website that would use the latest technologies to dazzle consumers with its many features. Knowing how long it would take to complete and test the software, the company’s officials and other vendors believed that it was impossible to open a fully functioning exchange on Oct. 1.3. Delusional Obama officials panicked and only interfered in ways that made the impossible task even more difficult.
CGI and other contractors complained of endlessly shifting requirements and a government decision-making process so cumbersome that it took weeks to resolve elementary questions, such as determining whether users should be required to provide Social Security numbers. Some CGI software engineers ultimately walked out, saying it was impossible to produce good work under such conditions.4. The truth is being suppressed. What would we hear from a full-on whistleblower?
“Cut corners, make date,” said one specialist, who like most of the people interviewed for this article would not allow his name to be used because the Obama administration has requested that all government officials and contractors involved keep their work confidential.5. What the hell is MarkLogic and why did it get this sweet deal that caused so much grief?
Another sore point was the Medicare agency’s decision to use database software, from a company called MarkLogic, that managed the data differently from systems by companies like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. CGI officials argued that it would slow work because it was too unfamiliar.6. There was a competent person who could have been in charge, but he was identified with Romneycare.
The Medicare agency was not everyone’s first choice to run the $630 million project. White House officials at first debated whether to name an outsider, such as Jon Kingsdale, who set up the landmark Massachusetts health insurance program, or even to create a new agency.7. The one named informant is Wallace Fung, who seems sympathetic to Henry Chao, the completely unqualified/unempowered administration official who got stuck in charge of the project, and Fung tells us that Chao was freaked out about the delusional, disastrous demands coming from the White House.
As a result, the president’s signature initiative was effectively left under the day-to-day management of Henry Chao, a 19-year veteran of the Medicare agency with little clout and little formal background in computer science. Mr. Chao had to consult with senior department officials and the White House, and was unable to make many decisions on his own. “Nothing was decided without a conversation there,” said one agency official involved in the project, referring to the constant White House demands for oversight....8. The original plan was to build the sites for the individual states that declined — as was their option in our constitutional system — to build websites, but somewhere along the way, for some reason — political? — the White House decided it wanted one big federal website, and this switcheroo wreaked havoc on the design work.
One evening last summer, [Chao] called Wallace Fung, who retired in 2008 as the Medicare agency’s chief technology officer. Mr. Fung said in an interview that he told Mr. Chao to greatly simplify the site’s functions. “Henry, this is not going to work. You cannot build this kind of system overnight,” Mr. Fung said he told him. “I know,” Mr. Chao answered, according to Mr. Fung. “But I cannot talk them out of it.”
A pattern of ever-shifting requirements persisted throughout the project, including the administration’s decision late last year to try to redesign the site’s appearance and content to make it more informative to consumers, according to many specialists involved. The administration also decided to reconfigure it as a national site, instead of one where each state had its own front page, after many states decided not to open their own exchanges.... “It was monstrous, a monstrous impact,” said one specialist about the amount of code that had to be rewritten because of the redesign and other similar changes.9. Administration officials trying to cover their asses got paranoid that the technicians were trying to cover their asses. (Maybe, like me, they didn't know whether using code to patch a flaw is a coverup or actually the way you fix flaws in code.) And like a bunch of social workers they reinterpreted the technical problems as personality conflicts and wasted the technicians' time making them drive to Baltimore to participate in some inane make-nice therapy group. (Oh, how I wish I could see the actual quotes from the unnamed CGI and QSSI people who, I suspect, were royally pissed at this idiotic exercise!)
Eventually, Medicare agency officials began to suspect that staff members at CGI were intentionally trying to hide flaws in the system, to cover up for their inability to meet production deadlines. They ordered CGI technicians to drive from their offices near Dulles International Airport in Virginia to the agency headquarters near Baltimore to review their code with government supervisors. The Medicare agency was also growing frustrated with tension among contractors, noting that initial tests of parts of the system were being delayed because of “coordination issues” between CGI and QSSI, which won another part of the job after losing the lead contractor role.10. Obama lied straight-faced at us or his people completely tricked him into talking up the website and how great it was going to be. When he could have used his charm to manage and mellow our expectations, he inexplicably chose to amp us up.
Despite the behind-the-scenes crisis, the president expressed confidence about the exchange just days before its debut. “This is real simple,” Mr. Obama said, during a speech in Maryland on Sept. 26. “It’s a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans side by side the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak, same way you shop for a TV on Amazon. You just go on, and you start looking, and here are all the options.”