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Government The Almighty Buck

Lead Contractor On Health-Care Web Site Led By Execs From Troubled IT Company 227

Posted by timothy
from the friends-in-high-places dept.
thomst writes "The Washington Post's Jerry Markon and Alice Crites report that 'The lead contractor on the dysfunctional Web site for the Affordable Care Act is filled with executives from a company that mishandled at least 20 other government IT projects, including a flawed effort to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers, documents and interviews show. CGI Federal, the main Web site developer, entered the U.S. government market a decade ago when its parent company purchased American Management Systems, a Fairfax County contractor that was coming off a series of troubled projects. CGI moved into AMS's custom-made building off Interstate 66, changed the sign outside and kept the core of employees, who now populate the upper ranks of CGI Federal.'"
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Lead Contractor On Health-Care Web Site Led By Execs From Troubled IT Company

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @05:38PM (#45444869)
    Fire them all with prejudice.
    • by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday November 16, 2013 @06:50PM (#45445223) Homepage Journal

      Fire them all with prejudice.

      yes do this.

      I've read through some comments below & really that's all there is to say about this.

      Debating 'gov't VS private sector' can be interesting or it can be excruciating. In this case we can surely fault the government for being dumb enough to pay these companies...so there's that...then of course the companies's work was shit...

      Bottom line in thsi case is the same w/ most 'gov't VS private sector' debates....private sector can be more 'cutting edge' than government but government has the accountability of the people.

      For the 'rollout' of a long-planned government that has State/Federal differences & the insurance industry there's no reason to spend 100's of Millions on routine IT work.

      The US just paid these companies to hire IT workers to make the site to specifications. The gov't could have hired IT workers directly.

      The problem with the debate is that so many 'government contracts' are basically ***government subsidies of industreis*** with tax dollars for the businesses in a particular political area, not on market forces.

      If government contracts weren't doled out as political favors the data wouldn't be so noisy.

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        Shorter: Dilbert's company got the contract, due to their extensive experience in the industry.

        Do it in-house, instead. Career professionals are better than contractors.

        • by St.Creed (853824) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @07:24PM (#45445357)

          Shorter: Dilbert's company got the contract, due to their extensive experience in the industry.

          Do it in-house, instead. Career professionals are better than contractors.

          You obviously never worked with government employees. The combination of protected work + low pay does not tend to attract the best and brightest, in my experience.

          • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @09:12PM (#45445783)
            So? Other governments don't have protected work and low pay and they are still governments. You don't have to settle for shit. Actually get off your arses and vote and you may get a government that pays more attention to people who are not just in it to play political games.
            • It's the nature of working for the government. Congressmen vote for bills spending billions of their constituents dollars without even reading them while they wouldn't spend $10 of their own money without triple checking that they are getting a good deal for it. There is no incentive to do a great job, to hire great people, to motivate them, to pay them well, to resist the destructive role of unions etc because it is not their money. It makes all the difference and there is no cure for it. It's human nature

              • by iluvcapra (782887)

                These problems apply to all large organizations, not just governments, s/constituent/shareholder, s/congressman/management. Large corporations are often profoundly mismanaged, work is diverted to friends, mistakes are covered up, and the management hand-pick their oversight and their replacements. Large corporations don't have to be efficient, they simply have to make more than the competitor in a give period of time, that leads to

                What's more important is the kind of organization, the values, and the sta

            • by shentino (1139071)

              Try recruiting sheeple that are coopted by the media owned by the same elite that are assraping the government.

          • by artor3 (1344997)

            You obviously never worked with government employees. The combination of protected work + low pay does not tend to attract the best and brightest, in my experience.

            If we didn't waste so much money on thieving private contractors, maybe there would be more money for salaries to attract the best and brightest.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Aighearach (97333)

            I've been to the Post Office, they do a great job. In my State the DMV does a great job, too. I buy permits for commercial mushroom harvesting on National Forests, and except for during the shutdown (not their fault) they give great service.

            You want bad service, forget government, try a multinational corporation!

            And the pay is typically industry average, with strong benefits. Probably why places like the Post Office can give large and difficult tests and only hire the people with the highest scores.

            I used t

        • This is really what they need to start doing. Stop hiring contractors who invariably screw them over, do it yourself, then you KNOW how it'll end up working. This isn't like asking someone to develop a 21st century tank. The technology is well established.

          The worst part of it (as you'll see in the comments) is when it goes bad people fall back to "incompetent government" criticisms. Might as well put the weight on your shoulders completely instead of allowing your over-paid ass to fumble his load 1/2 to

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sumdumass (711423)

            Actually, it is government that is incompetent. From the start there were problems with the law that Reid and Pelosi ended up making comments about not knowing or understanding what was in the law to the most recent comments made by President Obama in that nobody knew the law would cause people to lose their coverage when he signed it. Then you have decisions made not because they were technically sound, but because they were politically motivated by politically appointed personnel known to be loyal to part

      • If government contracts weren't doled out as political favors the data wouldn't be so noisy.

        If people didnt do shenanigans generally, i dont think anyone would be arguing about the size or role of government anyways.

        The point is that people DO do screw things, and having a massive budget and no fear of going under when you screw up doesnt really help things. I feel like if we had set the budget for this website at ~1 million or some such, we probably would have overrun the budget a little but could still have pulled this off.

        • having a massive budget and no fear of going under when you screw up doesnt really help things. I feel like if we had set the budget for this website at ~1 million or some such, we probably would have overrun the budget a little but could still have pulled this off.

          the US Federal 'budget' is in no way, shape, or form analogous to some sort of household or 'Dome book' kind of accounting budget.

          plz learn this forever

          The US **prints money** & does complex **monetary policy** & just happens to be the **

        • it's possible i could have misunderstood what you meant by 'budget'...sorry if i did

          did you mean the Fed's should have used a contractor but kept the budget for the project insanely low (and maybe give it to a 'startup' w/ tons of traffic like imagur.com) thereby forcing the task to be handled properly and with a minimum of effort?

          b/c **that** isn't a half bad solution in the context..it's a good way around beauracracy...

          i wouldn't plan it that way at all, but I was some project manager I could see consider

          • I dont think the solution is crazy. Far too much money was thrown at the project, that money and apparent lack of any penalties for not delivering attracted the worst kind of contractors. There is a mistaken belief, I think, that throwing enough money at a project will make sure it gets done. Rather, it makes sure that someone will figure out a way to be awarded that money regardless of their ability to do the work.

      • Debating 'gov't VS private sector' can be interesting or it can be excruciating. In this case we can surely fault the government for being dumb enough to pay these companies

        It's not stupidity. Government employees have no incentive to spend public funds wisely. Many of them may make an effort because they try to be decent people, but that's not enough.

        If government contracts weren't doled out as political favors the data wouldn't be so noisy.

        Government contracts will always be doled out as political favors.

        • Government employees have no incentive to spend public funds wisely

          ok you got me...i'm curious...what do you mean by 'incentive'?

          can you give a counter-example? something where a person **would** have the proper incentive as you define it to do *excelent* work on a project like this? how would that look?

          you don't need to write a book, just give me an idea of what you mean

          also, if you feel like it, can you explain how government contracts will **always** be doled out as political favors? Do you mean 'practically' always or are you saying its inherent? If so do you see any system anywhere that would do it by proper market forces?

          • by stenvar (2789879)

            ok you got me...i'm curious...what do you mean by 'incentive'?

            The kind of rewards people receive for the work they do: increasing personal wealth, continued employment, peer recognition, higher salary, better office, new job opportunities, etc.

            also, if you feel like it, can you explain how government contracts will **always** be doled out as political favors? Do you mean 'practically' always or are you saying its inherent?

            "Always" not in the sense that every single one of them is, but in the sense that it i

            • I love how you are 'born-again' faithful to an ideology that emphasizes *personal action* yet you completely ignore the **one** precious personal action that **any american citizen** can do that **proves your ideology wrong**

              VOTE

              Government employees have no incentive to spend public funds wisely

              ok you got me...i'm curious...what do you mean by 'incentive'?

              The kind of rewards people receive for the work they do: increasing personal wealth, continued employment, peer recognition, higher salary, better office, new job opportunities, etc.

              Human nature is infinitely more complex than your simple power dynamics.....here's the main theoretical flaw that sinks your argument...

              **those aren't the only reasons people do things**...i'm not going to list alternatives, but all of the things you listed are basically different w

    • by flyneye (84093)

      If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
      Wisdom, tried and true , since barter was invented.

  • by memebrain (1705284) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @05:41PM (#45444887)
    The only part of the article that stood out as unusual to me was "AMS-built computer systems sent Philadelphia school district paychecks to dead people". Now that is a seriously innovative program that can find and send a check to someone on the other side.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 16, 2013 @05:43PM (#45444897)

    Just the technology for web sites that can scale to serve dozens of concurrent users.

  • by bmacs27 (1314285) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @05:47PM (#45444905)
    This is why government contracts are broken. You are forced to go with the low bid in cases like this, so you end up with garbage. Yet, you still end up giving away no-bid contracts to preferred cronies like KBR. All the fascism, none of the quality.
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @05:56PM (#45444965)

      What bid . . .?

      Revealed: Michelle Obama's Princeton classmate is top executive at firm that that built disastrous Obamacare website after being awarded no-bid $93m contract

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2477403/Michelle-Os-Princeton-classmate-exec-company-built-Obamacare-website.html [dailymail.co.uk]

      . . . it just shows you where the real value of a good education is . . .

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bmacs27 (1314285)
        Fair enough. This was just regular old cronyism. Not the race to the bottom.
      • Well, some go to college to get to know something, others go to get to know someone...

      • by juliuszs (1269402) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @06:18PM (#45445079)
        Did you even bother to read it? Did you miss the point that it was Bush administration that approved them for no bid contracts? Did your knee hit your chin? Do you need a dentist?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Did you even bother to read it? Did you miss the point that it was Bush administration that approved them for no bid contracts? Did your knee hit your chin? Do you need a dentist?

          IT'S BEEN OVER FIVE FUCKING YEARS. STOP BLAMING BUSH.

          Face it, Obama's a failure. Continuing to blame Bush for every damn thing is pathetic.

          • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @08:21PM (#45445577)

            It is counterproductive. If everything is the fault of some guy in the past, long gone from politics, then that lets the current guys get away with whatever they like. We can only hope to improve the decisions politicians make by holding them accountable. If they have an automatic out of "Oh the bad guys in the past did it!" then nothing gets better.

            • by Ignacio (1465)
              But that's how it always is. Blame the past administrations for failures, praise the current administration for successes.
              • by sumdumass (711423)

                No, that is a relatively new thing. Bush never blamed anything on Clinton and Clinton never publicly blamed anything on Bush or Reagan. This entire blaming the last guy is new. But do not confuse blaming the last guy with justifying their actions because the last guy did it too. That is another argument altogether where justifying something based on previous people doing it too doesn't place blame on them.

          • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday November 17, 2013 @01:34AM (#45446781)

            This is such an inane line of reasoning.

            The things that are Bush's fault 5 years ago are still Bush's fault today. They'll still be Bush's fault in another five years, and in fifty years, and in fifty thousand years. The blame doesn't shift to the new guy just 'cause he's now occupying the same address.

            If the Bush administration approved this company for no-bid contracts, how the flying fuck can you try to pin that on Michelle Obama? You think Obama's first act of office should have been to throw out every single piece of paperwork filed from 2001 to 2009, and start it all over from scratch?

            • sure, I can agree with that, but surely when the contract was up for grabs, nobody thought twice to repeal that specific rule as it's obviously not a good rule to have?

              so whilst the fault will always lie with bush, the responsibility for it's continuation will lie with the person who is sitting in the chair and not changing anything

      • by strength_of_10_men (967050) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @06:53PM (#45445239)

        And what was the graduating class of 1985's size? In 2012, it was about 1200. So let's say in 1985 there were 1000. Given that this is Princeton, it's likely that SOME of them are doing well in their careers, maybe even so far as to be execs at some companies.

        Unless there's even a hint of something illegal (or even unethical) going on here, I'm more likely to chalk it up to pure coincidence. What are they supposed to do - disallow any company with executives that happened to have attended school with the Obamas from doing govt work? If that's the case, I doubt there will be many qualified companies left

        No, this just looks like guilt by association.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @06:29PM (#45445129) Homepage

      The reason government contracts are broken is because they exist.

      For some reason, in the US it is more politically acceptable to pay a private firm $200K per worker for a government contract than it is to pay $150K per worker to hire people to do the job. And this is not a partisan thing, since the biggest area where this kind of silliness happens is obscenely high military budget, and that gets reapproved without much serious question. It creates a lot of opportunity for graft among anybody controlling a government purchase, costing even more public money unnecessarily.

      By contrast, the UK government has an IT department that is in charge of all government websites. If they need more people to do the job, they hire them. If they need fewer, they lay people off. And overall, they get better results for less money because that one department can coordinate efforts in a way the multiple US contractors simply can't do.

      • Government workers might be lazy and a few might pocket some cash before they serve jail time for it but the cost is nothing compared with privatized contractors who have a profit margin which they turn around and use to corrupt the government for the next contract and when they get caught swiping money it is "just good business" or if they swipe too much they get... well, nothing if they "bribe" the right people they just make even more money! Best case, some people get fined a drone takes the fall and th

      • by Rockoon (1252108)

        And this is not a partisan thing, since the biggest area where this kind of silliness happens is obscenely high military budget, and that gets reapproved without much serious question.

        ...at least the obscenely high military budget, wasteful as it is, produces world-leading results. I think that if a military contractor had been given the task of building the federal exchange website, that it would have come in even more over budget, but it would have at least worked.

        The politicians with the purse strings here.dont actually care about the money, but they do care about looking like they do more harm than good. In asymmetric evaluations, its easy to excuse big negatives (such as wasteful

      • Seriously, you are 100% correct in what you say, but according to the GOP, the government doesn't create jobs, and thus, the government can't hire qualified people to do work, but instead needs to outsource it all to private industry, all the while not having the expertise needed to even evaluate the private companies it is contracting to do the work.
        • by meglon (1001833)
          Yeh, the government doesn't create jobs unless that spending cut is in a republicans district... then it's the end of the world, 100% unemployment forever!!!!1!11!1!!!!
      • by Guppy06 (410832)

        For some reason, in the US it is more politically acceptable to pay a private firm $200K per worker for a government contract than it is to pay $150K per worker to hire people to do the job.

        Because in aggregate the US believes in private enterprise above all else, to the point where we will hand de facto monopolies to cable television providers or mandate the purchase of health insurance from private companies (and only from private companies) before we'd ever stomach the idea of having government get directly involved in anything.

        And this is not a partisan thing

        Just because it's not "partisan" doesn't mean it's not a decidedly right-wing idea. And it was most certainly a partisan idea until Ronald Reagan won the most lopsi

      • by Daa (9883)
        Contractors are preferred because when the contract is over the workers are not still on the government payroll. If they hire workers directly they would be covered by the civil service rules and be effectively employed for life no matter how bad they were. This shows up all the time when there is a need to change or slow down a program the contractors are in the news because of large layoffs.
        • by mbkennel (97636)

          Then the problem is civil service rules.
        • when the contract is over the workers are not still on the government payroll

          Until the next government project comes along (usually already starting or running) and they get hired as contractors again because they have experience in government contracting jobs. It's not like there will never be another government software project for them... they are happening all the freaking time. They could just hire the people and contract supplemental workers to work under the full time project managers. The benefit t

          • by will_die (586523)
            Nice on paper but does not work in reality.
            Back when former President Clinton pushed for the big change over from federal employees to contractors. Those where all items discussed and found to not actually work. People don't have the training and don't want to move around along with other problems.
      • by sumdumass (711423)

        The reason government contracts are broken is because they were used a tools in the past. Seriously, prevailing wage requirements were not originally there to ensure employees weren't being abused, they came about because most minority contractors weren't large enough to pay prevailing wages while waiting on the contract payouts so it would lock them out of competing for government contracts. Other rules regarding government contracting were in place to protect existing contractors or even government jobs o

      • by Fjandr (66656)

        You can't lay off US government employees in most cases, which means the IT department would do nothing but grow regardless of need. It's also hard to fire the incompetent, which has effects that should be obvious.

    • by will_die (586523)
      Actually this was an example of a no bid contract that was awarded to cronies.
      KBR, formerly Haliburton, already had a list of prices that had been approved by the government, then they were the only company that could offer the list of services that the DoD that were requested.The only people that thought there was something wrong with that bid are the hate sites, even KBR competitors said they were the right company for the contract requested and the prices were not bad. All of that is not something you
    • by hey! (33014)

      There's more to it than low bid. Federal procurement rules are complicated; they're supposed to make sure that the US government gets the best possible price, but what often happens is that they force the government to buy from a small pool of companies specializing in taking government money, rather than on the open market. Big IT contractors tend to spin off subsidiaries to handle the specialized accounting and project management requirements.

      I've seen this first hand working as a contractor with state a

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There's alot of money to be made by doing it badly. And then being paid forever to 'fix' it.

    Job security.

  • Why wasn't an American company chosen? I'm sure IBM or Oracle would have cost less, and it
    may have worked initially...

    Instead what we end up with for 600 Million is the Canadian

    "Sorry"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well if they choose a lead contractor instead of a gold contractor what are they supposed to expect?

  • Who are these executives donating to? Who's on the committee that approves IT contracts? When incompetence keeps getting hired, bribery is a sure bet.

    • No, like all smart businessmen they donated $1,000 to Obama, $2,500 to some republican running for the senate and another $1,000 for Romney.

  • If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

      That's what the contractor's loop iteration code looked like.

    • by JustOK (667959)

      Forgot the catch statement

  • Liberals hate corporations. Conservatives hate the government.

    But when it comes to government contractors like CGI we can all put aside our differences and hate them together.

  • Is this some hotbed of programming talent and I missed hearing about it?

    When I think about politicians hiring programming based on physical proximity, I can't help but think they've reached the AIG level of not giving a damn what anyone thinks of them, because some variant of "close enough to blow me" is what everyone's going to think of the decision making process.
  • Of course they are (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sugar and acid (88555) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @06:31PM (#45445137)

    The "experience" looked for in a company looking to win a government contract like this is, well a track record in winning government contracts.

    They know the tricks and hoops to go through to get to the end and win the contract. They probably also have good contacts that help them win it in the first place.

    Ability to actually manage the contract and deliver the result. Pretty much irrelevant.

    Basically good bullsh*tters, bad managers.

  • why did the award the contract to the same old cronies who have failed before?

    Question: where are the really high-traffic websites primarily developed? Ans. West coast (Netflix, Youtube, Google, Yahoo, etc.). Heck, even Oracle is on the West coast. So if the expertise is on the West coast, why use east coast and Canadian companies with no history of successfully building (in time, on-budget) a high-traffic, complex website to develop and deploy a website that is a critical component of the legislation that

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't think anybody else that works in Fairfax considers this a surprise. All of our companies have shady backgrounds with government contracts. Overpaying for a shitty website is just a distraction compared to real world problems.

  • by trout007 (975317) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @07:02PM (#45445283)

    I have experience in both. In a private business contract both parties do their best to meet the terms of the contract. The reason is simple. It's expensive to go to court and bad for future business. I've written unclear requirements. When it was a private contract if they noticed it they would call for clarification and unless it was major there was no charge. A contractor that buckles and dimes you doesn't get a second chance to bid.
    A Government contract is different. If there are two ways to interprete a requirement they will always pick the wrong way and do as much work as possible down the wrong path so they get a bigger change order when it's discovered. They never get punished because technically they are right. It just rarely happens in private business.

  • by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @08:04PM (#45445507) Homepage Journal

    They preserved the same consistent process. Let's hear it for repeatable software processes.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Saturday November 16, 2013 @08:34PM (#45445635)

    I don't get why people have not yet figured out that most large federal projects are rife with graft - the only difference is you don't hold the crappy $800 hammer that results, unlike everyone who gets to see the substandard work that results from politically connected projects with something like a public facing website.

    This is EXACTLY why federal spending must be reduced, because it is for the large part wasted to a far greater degree than state or city level funding (though there is graft there to, it just cannot be at the level federal graft is).

  • ...where failure is rewarded, as long as you can talk a good game.

  • There are many States that successfully implemented working websites for the ACA. I don't understand why the Feds can't just license the best of these and clone it 36 times for each of the States that refused to implement their own site.

    Which begs the pre-Oct 1 question: Why didn't the Feds just test each of the websites developed by the dozen or so states that implemented their own, then license the best one for cloning purpose for each of the other 36 states?

  • Skill and proficiency in getting awarded a federal IT project contract seems to be inversely proportional to being able to deliver it.
  • a company with a history of botching huge government contracts, gets another huge government contract -- and botches it.

    I was wondering why this contract was costing so much to do so little.... It is all becoming a log clearer now. These people don't make money off of well managed projects (from the customer's point of view), they make money from BIG projects ... no matter how small they actually needed to be.

    I'm sure that the botch is well documented ISO9000 style and all, but success was not necessary for them to get paid.

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