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Government Medicine and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality 494

An anonymous reader writes in with this excerpt from "The idea that 'failure is not an option' is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time. (If you ever say it, wash your mouth out with soap. If anyone ever says it to you, run.) Even NASA's vaunted moonshot, so often referred to as the best of government innovation, tested with dozens of unmanned missions first, several of which failed outright. Failure is always an option. Engineers work as hard as they do because they understand the risk of failure. And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying 'Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.' ... was unable to complete even a thousand enrollments a day at launch, and for weeks afterwards. As we now know, programmers, stakeholders, and testers all expressed reservations about's ability to do what it was supposed to do. Yet no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President. Worse, every senior political figure—every one—who could have bridged the gap between knowledgeable employees and the President decided not to. And so it was that, even on launch day, the President was allowed to make things worse for himself and his signature program by bragging about the already-failing site and inviting people to log in and use something that mostly wouldn't work. Whatever happens to government procurement or hiring (and we should all hope those things get better) a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things.'"
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  • >> a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news

    I'm pretty sure the guy at the top was in on the ruse too.

    >> no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President

    Isn't there a petition system for that? :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thank you!

      Mr Obama knows exactly what is going on and has known this was coming for years.

      >> no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President

      Im the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and I can't get answers from my subordinates regarding the failures of my flagship project. What happens to me? *I am fired.*

      Quit making excuses for a lame duck administration.

      • Chauncey Gardener (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:54AM (#45515101)

        The more you hear about how he supposedly didn't know this or that, the more you have to wonder if he isn't a simple community organizer [].

      • by CamelTrader ( 311519 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:37PM (#45515589) Homepage

        Guess you're not the CEO of the Fortune 500 I used to work for. I see this frequently the time in corporate structure as well - the bigger the structure, the worse it is.

        Underling: "That's impossible. We might get it done in N days, and C isn't actually possible without a complete rewrite."
        Low-Boss: "Great. The time frame is tight but we can do it with some extra elbow grease! Let's meet about the specs."
        Mid-Boss: "Timeline is great and we'll iron out the details."
        Upper-Boss: "It's all on track."
        BIG Boss: "Great job."

        The developer has to do the work, and is the most accurate about time constraints and difficulty of the project. At each level of reporting, though, the prognosis get's a little better because nobody wants to deliver bad news. Low management says it will be tough and there are some problems. Middle management says things are looking good and they're working out the kinks. Upper management says everything is great. The Boss has no idea. The more levels there are, the more dilute the bad news becomes.

      • by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:45PM (#45516423)

        Thank you!

        Mr Obama knows exactly what is going on and has known this was coming for years.

        [citation needed]

      • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @02:28PM (#45516947)

        Well for the developers, they had a time line that Was an Act of Congress.

        For your company, you will probably be able to delay the product release if there is a serious glitch going on. However the problem was there was a Legal Act of Congress saying this is when the website will need to be up and running.

        Also there is a difference between government work and For Profit work. Government is Risk Adverse while For Profit is innovation driven.
        So working for the government for any President, your job is to not screw up so you will get fired or have to go threw some scandal, you can have a million of successes and one failure, and that failure will bring you down. In most good For Profit companies it focuses on your success. You screw up a few times, even some big ones, that is Ok (You may not be happy about it), you learned from your mistake, however under your belt you have a lot of solid successes that will drive you forward.

        • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @07:07PM (#45520185) Homepage Journal

          Well for the developers, they had a time line that Was an Act of Congress.

          And you know what else was in the law? The timeline for the individual and the employer mandate.

          I'm still wondering how Obama has been able to put those off legally, even with executive order?? That doesn't seem right and I wonder why no one has sued for this...I would think anyone planning for this law to be in full effect according to the dates of the law would have standing on this.

          I think this would be a good time to test the boundaries and maybe define more what exact powers the President has with Executive Order. It needs to be seriously reigned in IMHO in general.

      • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @03:20PM (#45517539)

        Im the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and I can't get answers from my subordinates regarding the failures of my flagship project. What happens to me? *I am fired.*

        Save it. Recent history suggests that you'd either get a board-approved raise and/or leave with a HUGE Golden Parachute severance.

      • by TsuruchiBrian ( 2731979 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @05:34PM (#45519085)
        Im a nuclear scientist and a brain surgeon and the CEO of 5 fortune 500 companies, and I say you're full of shit.
    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      I'm pretty sure the guy at the top was in on the ruse too.

      Guess who his boss is?

    • According to the Washington Post []:

      "A final 'pre-flight checklist' before the Web site’s Oct. 1 opening, compiled a week before by CMS, shows that 41 of 91 separate functions that CGI was responsible for finishing by the launch were still not working. And a spreadsheet produced by CGI, dated the day of the launch, shows that the company acknowledged about 30 defects on features scheduled to have been working already, including five that it classified as 'critical'".

      The question is, what did the President know, and when did he know it? We know the responsible White House staff knew the system would not work because it simply wasn't finished. And that's only for the parts that were to go live on October 1st. As we heard last week from the existing CTO on the project, there is still 30-40% of the backend system that hasn't even been written yet.

      I don't think it is reasonable that no one told the President about this. I think the President knew, but decided to push it through anyway. Why? Personally, I think it's because he believed that the glitches would be forgiven, and because the press was behind him, he could always blame the other side, and they would go along as the usually do.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:28PM (#45515469)

        Yet Obama's response was not "By executive order, if the website is not fully functional by December 1st, all executive departments are hereby forbidden to award future contracts to CGI or its successor entities."

        What a putz.

        • by GodInHell ( 258915 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @02:47PM (#45517147) Homepage
          That would be against the law. Congress has regulated the procurement process for government software and IT projects to hell and back, that's why big incompetent companies like CGI win the contracts over and over, they know the system. It is designed to produce middling to poor results at modest cost - when it works we get competent tools, when it dosen't, costs balloon and the incompetent contractors make out like bandits taking extra pay to repair what they broke (again, can't withhold payment like any small business would do). SNAFU exists as a term because of the special kind of bureaucratic process that comes out of democratic government.
      • If you've been in the industry long enough, you've probably been part of a project where management pushed a release that was not ready. It always turns out this way, but it's still tempting sometimes anyway.
    • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:45PM (#45515669)

      >> a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news

      I'm pretty sure the guy at the top was in on the ruse too.

      >> no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President

      Isn't there a petition system for that? :)

      OK, so the guy at the very top, the guy who's trying to talk 535 overblown egos into co-operating and getting things done, (which, by the way, haven't been co-operating one damned bit in 5 years) carrying on secret talks with a government who hasn't talked with us in like 30 years to try to defuse some of those 535 overblown ego's dreams of American imperialism and military adventurism, putting up with a childish ally in the region of said 'black sheep' government that wants nothing else but to turn said black sheep's country into a fucking parking lot, trying to keep yet more American boots off the ground in yet another country in the same damned region while aforesaid childish ally insists turning that country into a golf course, and trying to run his department of the government while being chronically shorthanded due to some of 100 idiots as a subset of the 535 overblown egos who are determined to ratfuck him at every instance possible, having to deal with multiple manufactured scandals (in particular, one created by a subset of those 535 idiots defunding a program that would have mitigated the damage done to an American embassy with concurrent loss of life in an attempt to create a Pearl Harbor-type incident as a precurser to demand American military intervention in yet another country the 535 don't particularly like) designed to boost support for their ideology, this guy supposedly has detailed information on the planning, design and implementation of a fucking website designed and built on a cost-plus government contract? When'd he have TIME to deal with that?

      • When did he NOT have the time to pay attention to the most important legislative agenda of his entire Presidency? Personally, I think historians will be writing books about the answer to that question for decades to come. Here's the problem: either it really is his key agenda item, or it isn't. If it is, then why did he let it go live on October 1st? If you say, "someone else made that decision", then it can't be his key agenda item, can it? Who concedes decision-making power of the most important item on one's list?

        It's more than a conundrum, it's a full-blown mystery.

        • by drnb ( 2434720 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:17PM (#45516095)

          Who concedes decision-making power of the most important item on one's list? It's more than a conundrum, it's a full-blown mystery.

          It baffles me, but the President surrendered leadership on his signature legislation at the beginning. One of his first moves was to let partisan Nancy Pelosi take the lead and also take the process into the back rooms with lobbyists in tow. He surrendered his promises of an open and transparent legislative process with seats at the table for all.

          • by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @08:03PM (#45520721)

            = = = One of his first moves was to let partisan Nancy Pelosi take the lead = = =

            It is always easy to spot the fans in the office:

            1) They all subscribe to the "Nancy Pelosi as ultimate evil librul WITCH" theory - despite Pelosi being an ordinary centrist Democrat. Which is to say, a bit to the left of the DLC/Third Way, a bit more to the left of the neoliberals: just about at the median of US voters.

            2) They have no understanding of how a legislature that intends to endure for many years and which uses parliamentary rules of procedure, actually works

            3) They have no understanding of what the Speaker of the House's job actually is.


            Pelosi is, to be sure, a very good political manager (and therefore a very effective Speaker of the House). Perhaps that is what makes her unforgivable compared to Boehner and - particularly - Cruz.

  • Bipartisanship (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Andrio ( 2580551 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:44AM (#45514331)

    When both parties work together toward a common goal, we can put a man on the moon.

    When both parties work against each other, and try to stop each other every step of the way purely for their own political agenda, we can't even launch a damn website.

    • by glennrrr ( 592457 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:55AM (#45514439)
      I think that the Members of the House who were newly elected in 2010 after the ACA, resulting in the GOP retaking the House, and re-elected in 2012 are rightfully following what the people in their districts want them to do: oppose the ACA. There are a handful of districts which voted for both Obama and a Republican Member of Congress, but there aren't many, and those few are pretty squishy about what to do. My own Congressman came back into Congress in 2010 (he had been unseated in 2008) and then defeated in 2012 by a Democrat; he wasn't following the will of the voters who showed up on election day 2012, other places, the story is different.
      • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:33AM (#45514827) Journal

        I think that most Americans can be found in the middle of the two extremes (far-left/far-right) but our political system is set up to reward those who pander to the extremes (Gerrymandering + closed primaries in most states), so we wind up with this system that swings back and forth between the two, rarely settling in the middle where most of the electorate lies. Divided Government used to bring outcomes in the middle (Reagan/O'Neil, and Clinton/Gingrich) but now it just seems to bring grandstanding and stalling (Bush/Pelosi, Obama/Boehner), as each side waits to beat the other in the next election, while kicking the serious issues of the day down the road, to be dealt with after they have a "mandate" from the voters. Each side misreads the smallest win as a "mandate" for their platform, ignoring the fact that 49.9% of the country voted the other way. BHO's "mandate" in 2008 can be boiled down to three words: "Don't be GWB", not "Dust off every Progressive idea that's been on the bookshelf since the 60s." Similarly, John Boehner's "mandate" in 2010 was "Don't be Nancy Pelosi", not "Give the keys to the Tea Party."

        There are some benefits to the two party system in the United States, compare the (relative) stability of our system to some Parliamentary Democracies, but we're in pretty big trouble if we can't take the two parties back from their respective extremes. I'm not sure how this happens, when each party keeps bleeding elder statesmen, House primaries are dominated by rabid partisans living in echo chambers, and even the Senate (where gerrymandering is a non-issue) looks to be on a downward spiral wherein statesmen are out and partisan hacks are in.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by glennrrr ( 592457 )
          Boehner cannot be Speaker without the Tea Party (libertarian) members of his caucus. How exactly do you expect him to make them vote for policies which would rightfully get them primaried in the next election? The ACA has something like 87% disapproval amongst registered Republicans, and the other 13% probably don't recognize that ACA means ObamaCare. There are lots of things that the parties can negotiate upon, and the ACA has already been modified several times, but the ongoing existence of the ACA is not
          • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:24PM (#45515417) Journal

            would rightfully get them primaried in the next election?

            And therein lies the problem. Primary elections are the "true" election in most Congressional districts (Democrat and Republican), thanks to gerrymandering. Primary elections are universally low turnout affairs that are dominated by the true believers, the types that get all of their news from MSNBC or Fox, who are least inclined to seek accommodation with the other side. The consequence of this is that we end up with hyper-partisan hacks that don't even represent the mainstream of their gerrymandered district, much less the country as a whole.

            I'm not blaming the GOP, the exact same thing happens in gerrymandered blue districts. Nancy Pelosi doesn't represent the mainstream of the Democratic party, much less the United States, yet she is the voice of the Democrats in the house.

            I don't know what the solution is. Some will argue that we need a third party, but that's no guarantee of a different result. Indeed, it makes it possible for the same hyper-partisan hacks to win as before, only now they'll have won with 40% of the vote instead of 50.1%. My hometown (Binghamton, NY) ended up with a left-wing asshole as Mayor, who won two three-way elections, and pushed his asinine left-wing agenda despite 60% of the city voting against him. (Hint for Matthew Ryan if your egotistical self finds this post with a Google search: People don't vote for Mayor to make statements about the Iraq War, they vote for him to fix the fucking potholes, keep the parks clean, and to try and attract employers to the area)

            • Well, it is true that gerrymandering leads to extremists, but gerrymandering really only is that bad in large states. I live in New Hampshire, I'd like to see you try and draw a district map in New Hampshire which was more than 55% Democratic, as we only have 2 districts and both are always competitive. On the other hand, Massachusetts has no Republicans in Congress; and even then Barney Frank quit in a huff when his Newton district was redrawn to be even a little bit competitive and he'd have to spend time
        • by mlts ( 1038732 ) *

          You see exactly this in the pre-primary campagins that are starting right now in the US. During these, you will read some very extreme political platforms, and after that mess is over, then both sides try to move to the middle to pretend to be mainstream.

          With all the sharp, strong, extreme talk, it is hard to state a simple, moderate platform that actually might address issues than kick them down the road.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          While interesting, it's missing the bigger point. Look to what working couples have agreed on, and what non working couples disagree on. There is a definite trend, and not for the betterment of the average citizen. To believe that all of the political happenings are accidental is asinine. These people make a lot of money doing what they do, and have consultants that are paid to tell them what to eat so their farts don't smell. Look past the hand waiving, and you can find an agenda.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

          but our political system is set up to reward those who pander to the extremes (Gerrymandering + closed primaries in most states)

          Explain this to me then: Why is it that the political stars of the Republican Party are the extremists (e.g. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz) while the political stars of the Democratic Party are usually centrists (e.g. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama)? Even Elizabeth Warren, to some degree a left-wing standard-bearer, has mostly just been pushing relentlessly for white-collar criminals to be tried for their crimes. Extreme liberal candidates with ideas like "Hey, let's make hedge fund managers pay the same tax rate as athl

          • by glennrrr ( 592457 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:12PM (#45516017)
            Because you think Barack Obama is a centrist and Rand Paul isn't. That pretty much explains it for me. I guess it's a matter of perspective.
            • some perspective (Score:4, Informative)

              by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @02:55PM (#45517247)

              According to Wikipedia, "In left-right politics, right-wing describes an outlook or specific position that accepts or supports social hierarchy or social inequality."

              Rand Paul is all about small government--which pretty much by definition means right-wing according to the definition above.

              Rand Paul calls himself a "constitutional conservative" and a "libertarian conservative." He opposes federal government involvement in health care, thinks it should be entirely privatized. He thinks the 14th Amendment shouldn't apply to kids of illegal immigrants. He shares some of the views of the religious right--he is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest, and he is opposed to same sex marriage.

    • The website launch cant really be blamed on partisanship; its not like congress was arguing over the placement of DIVs. The partisan arguments were whether we could shut the program down; but as that wasnt really going anywhere its hard to blame that for a broken website.

      The contractor dropped the ball, and there was no management or accountability put into place. Really not that complicated, and theres not really any other explanation when the higher ups were convinced the site would launch just fine on

    • Re:Bipartisanship (Score:5, Informative)

      by es330td ( 964170 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:25AM (#45514735)

      we can't even launch a damn website.

      The Republicans in Congress had exactly ZERO involvement with the implementation of the website. Once approved by Congress, and then upheld by the SCOTUS, it was on the Executive branch to hire the firms to build the website. This is 110% on the Executive Branch of the government.

    • Re:Bipartisanship (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:32AM (#45514819)

      When a country, that has received the (temporary) blessings of a goodly portion of the world banks, is lifting off in a multi-decade experiment in keyesianism, and combine that with the residual WW2, "get her done" and "risks be damned" attitude, that kept bureaucracy and regulation in check, and add in a new blossoming impetus in the cold war ....and what you have is a perfect storm, to result in our rocket program.

      Fast forward.

      1. The cold war ended, and it broke the russians, and it put us in a pretty big hole as well, the blowback of which, we're still seeing.
      2. The central banks still find us useful, but the original deal-with-the-devil (or devils) is now approaching 60 years old, and the central banks are now playing defense, positioning themselves within the transition to China.
      3. The "get her done" and "risks be damned" attitude that kept bureaucracy-hell in check, are now fully replaced with idiocracy, which is very easily seen in corporations, but is far worse in the biggest corporation of all, The United States Federal Government, which has 4 million dependents, and another 12 million unofficial dependents, the weight of which is not merely creating a sag, but bellies are dragging. The warfare/welfare state and endless push for centralization, because a little bit helped us win a war or two, so multiplying centralization by a million times, will make this country a million times better, has been championed by democrats and republicans, taking turns providing warfare benefits to the banks, and welfare benefits to individuals, corporations, and anyone with hat in hand....

      So in conclusion, I find your statement moronic, and perfectly symptomatic of the stage we have reached.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward


      You act like Republicans built the web site or created the ACA legislation.

      You're not tone deaf, you're mentally ill. STFU with the BS platitudes.

      And in case you were wondering, I'm a Democrat, although one who isn't afraid to criticize this disaster that needs to be repealed and suggest that Obama needs to impeached and thrown out.

    • When both parties work together toward a common goal, we can put a man on the moon.

      When both parties work against each other, and try to stop each other every step of the way purely for their own political agenda, we can't even launch a damn website.

      When party A thinks what party B did was an extremely bad idea and very harmful to the country, is it logical or even realistic to expect it just to shrug its shoulders and help out?

    • Re:Bipartisanship (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:01PM (#45515195)

      Wait, so you're blaming bi-partisanship on the fact that the DHHS mismanaged a project. A project which: A) They had more than sufficient funds available. B) A Mandate in terms of legislative action. C) An executive branch lead by the guy who pushed this shit through?

      I'm sorry but if somebody gave me over $300 million to develop a website [] with the requirements that these guys had, it would be done and our contract would have had penalties for failure to deliver. None of these contractors who put this mess together have yet to be held accountable for their own mismanagement and that is at the heart of why government projects like this fail, the contractors always have weasel clauses that the government allows, ultimately releasing them from blame when things go Tango Uniform. There's ample fees and revenue to be made for change orders which do nothing but encourage the project management team to encourage them to the stakeholders, causing delays and increasing the overall cost of the project. has had over $300 million spent on it and it's still doesn't work. Now they've extended dates and shifted delays and I'll bet you within 3 to 6 months they'll try to scrap it and start over. In the meantime you'll get a friendly letter from the IRS saying you owe a penalty because you haven't signed up because now there's thousands of new public servants at that vaunted institution just looking to fuck you over because the T wasn't crossed or some other problem that the government created but now it's your problem. "Oh you couldn't sign up? not our problem, we're the IRS and we're always right and you're wrong."

      This whole piece of shit legislation was thrown together by a bunch of morons who wanted to look good. I won't quote that retard Pelosi but the fact that nobody read the legislation. It was over 2000 pages long and more than anything else, shows how truly fucked we are in this country because at that point when legislation gets railroaded through like this because "Teddy is dying and we need to show we still lick the Kennedy's nutsacks in DC" Is no reason the rest of us have to take it up the ass. So while you blame gridlock let's not forget that for two years the Democrats pushed all this shit down our throats, not reading the legislation and trusting that it would all work out; Glinda the Witch of the North will wave her wand and make it all better.

      Don't believe me? In 2009 after the ARRA was passed I had the privilege of flying from DC to Raleigh Durham, sitting behind two Congressmen heading back home, one newly elected on Obama's coattails. They were high fiveing the crew when they came on-board "We passed it!" one exclaimed. During the brief flight they kept handing pieces of the ARRA legislation back and forth with one saying "I didn't know that was in there!?" The other being so myopic that even with glasses he held the pages about 2 inches from his nose to read them.

  • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:44AM (#45514333) Homepage

    Just ask Pelosi: they had to launch the website so they could find out what would crash it.

  • by moehoward ( 668736 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:44AM (#45514341)

    While there is plenty of blame to go around, I am still left wondering where the investigative journalism was regarding the true progress of ACA implementation as the 3 years progressed up to this point.

    So, while the press is justifiably having a field day with the sheer incompetence displayed here, where were they while all this was developing?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You sell more stories reporting on a train wreck than stopping one.

      • by Rolgar ( 556636 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:38AM (#45514907)

        Do you remember all of the Y2K stories for YEARS before the year 2000? Had people all worked into a frenzy that power plants and other equipment wouldn't work on 1/1/00. I've read that the White House is pretty hostile to any publication/reporter that prints a critical story. Pair that with the love certain media individuals have with Obama, and you get a whole lot of brushing stuff under the rug that 6 years ago was extremely hostile to a president that was pretty similar on policy and competence.

        • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:35PM (#45515567)

          Had people all worked into a frenzy that power plants and other equipment wouldn't work on 1/1/00.

          Things wouldn't have worked if they didn't fix them. That's like saying there's all this frenzy about vaccines. [sarcam] I mean polio and measles aren't that bad since no one I know is affected by them. [/sarcasm]. The problem is that when something works well and avoids a disaster some people think it wasn't necessary. For many years, FEMA did a good job at disaster recovery until Katrina hit. Then the country saw the effects of a poorly run government agency and why putting someone competent in charge matters.

          • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:57PM (#45515823)

            Had people all worked into a frenzy that power plants and other equipment wouldn't work on 1/1/00.

            Things wouldn't have worked if they didn't fix them.

            The OP didn't say that Y2K was a non-event. But one of the reasons it was a non-event was because of the attention it got in the news. That encouraged people not to ignore the issue.

   did NOT get that sort of news coverage, and the result was a non-functional service with a tax penalty associated with not using the service...

            And yes, I think that if the media had been reporting on the way they reported on Y2K, we'd probably have a working system in place, instead of what we have....

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by swb ( 14022 )

      Are you kidding me?

      The press was either cheerleading for Obama in other areas, railing against everything the Republicans did or supporting the failed gun control push, among other items.

      And that's when the Obama administration wasn't pursuing press relations that would have made Goebbels and Stalin proud, like their stage-managing of White House press photography.

      Serious investigative journalism of the ACA implementation, had it revealed what we know now, is very likely to have further enabled repeal attem

    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:03PM (#45515217) Homepage

      The answer is: there isn't really investigative journalism anymore. Journalists mostly deliver the news as presented to them in press releases.

      Lots of people would like to attribute this to malice and corruption, or else stupidity and laziness. Unfortunately, a big component of the problem is much harder to address: there isn't any money in providing news. Traditional news outlets are struggling to maintain revenue channels. Newspapers are going under, and TV news is mostly focused on tabloid news, because that's what people watch.

      More than anything else, the poor quality of journalism is our own fault. We're getting the news that we choose to watch and choose to pay for.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        So we're back to the yellow journalism of the 19th century.

        The question is, how did the old yellow journalism become the so-called serious journalism of the 20th century? I kind of question whether we EVER had a real serious investigative press.

        Sure, we had progressive muckrakers but their medium was often books, not newspapers. We seemed to have a pinnacle of journalism in the Watergate years, but a lot of the mid century seemed to be an establishment press more than happy to tow the establishment line

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:47AM (#45514369) Homepage

    So the *signature* piece of Obama's second term agenda -- the legislation he's harped on loudly and constantly -- launches with an epic fail. The contractors working the site were sounding alarms well in advance of the launch. And yet Obama is somehow utterly unaware that the launch could be anything but a total success? I call bullshit. Either Obama is the most disconnected president in recent history when it comes to the success of his *core legislative agenda* or he's just bullshitting about not knowing there were issues on launch day.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DeathToBill ( 601486 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:05AM (#45514547) Journal

      Aggressively and partisanly put, but I think about right. Any other senior manager in the world who said of a failure, "I didn't know," would immediately be asked, "Why didn't you know? It's your responsibility to know." As techies, we know how this goes - these organisational failures happen from the top down and it is the action of a weak, failing manager to try to pass the blame down the chain. We don't stand for it in any other situation; why would we here?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jimbolauski ( 882977 )
      If you look at any of the blunders that happened during this administration you will see a pattern Obama was not aware of the missteps in his administration. The one positive thing the Bin Laden raid, Obama was at the controls making the tough calls. This worked mostly because the media gave his administration a pass and any critics were deemed right wing cooks or racists. More then likely the pressure to have everything up and running so that the success could be trumpeted for the midterm elections was mor
    • The contractors working the site were sounding alarms well in advance of the launch.

      They were?

      Either Obama is the most disconnected president in recent history

      He's done this on several issues where responsibility by all rights should have rested with the Executive, but somehow he was unaware of what was going on. I recall some quote about how government is just too big to be able to keep track of it all; its as if he didnt read the job description or exactly what his purpose is.

    • Quoting again from the article:

      All told, of the 45 items in which CGI had expressed high confidence at the late August meeting in Baltimore, most were still not ready by the time consumers were supposed to be able to start to buy health plans online through the federal marketplace

      How anyone would think the President is reading web admin status reports is beyond me. He's responsible because he's the President and he puts his staff in place, but I just don't get where this Benghazi II: The Evil Website conspiracy is coming from. Somewhere along the line, people were snowjobbing their superiors on how ready they were. I can imagine no scenario where upper levels of the administration, whose mission statement involves dealing with PR crises, would all

  • by glennrrr ( 592457 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:48AM (#45514387)
    I think the most interesting thought in the article was about the author's observation of contempt between modern managers (in the example in the publishing business) and the engineers who actually create and manage systems. I'm also drawn to how articles written with sources inside the Administration refer to the technical people as 'Technicians' instead of what they probably were 'Senior Software Engineers' or appropriate equivalent title. I certainly don't think of myself as a technician, and I find the term somewhat demeaning somehow.
    • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:52AM (#45515069)

      I think the most interesting thought in the article was about the author's observation of contempt between modern managers (in the example in the publishing business) and the engineers who actually create and manage systems.

      I know why this is: A vice president of a staffing firm is in my social circle. A group of us were talking about a website idea. The VP and some quasi technical managers assured me that the solution was commoditized - already done before, available off the shelf as components. Nothing new, just need to get qualified people and equipment to plug and play. Very straightforward.

      So, while that is technically true... it is an utterly different and vastly more difficult matter to be able to identify the right people and create an environment where they can obtain the right equipment and room to maneuver. So, while the CTO of Google might be able to snap his fingers and create the website in a few weeks, a staffing company doesn't have access to that specific elite experience, or that development environment.

      Managers want to look at us - programmers, software engineers - as totally fungible, mere factory robots. Identical units which can quickly be obtained off the shelf and who can then implement a solution as long as it's kind of similar to any existing solution. HOWEVER - we're more like doctors and hospitals, where, despite having the same title, the variation in ability and intelligence and tools is quite high []. Think about the medical stories you read about where the person goes through doctor after doctor trying to cure a malady, until they find the right doctor. Or where a person has a rare malady and serendipitously finds a doctor researching this issue and obtains a cure. I think this dynamic exists in all professions but it's quite emphasized in programming.

      So, that's why there might be contempt - both sides really don't understand what they're dealing with. Managers looking at people who inexplicably can't just "do it" - they look at programmers like fungible factory robots (I don't say workers because even unskilled labor has variations in ability) turning bolts to put together pre-existing solutions. And programmers thrown into hidebound, designed-to-thwart-change development environments while trying to learn new concepts and put together novel solutions in a designed-to-fail environment.

      • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:06PM (#45515247)

        And a quick followup - think about a profession as well researched, as old and rigorous as civil engineering. The engineering of structures. Even in this environment where the concepts are well known, the profession is ancient, snafus happen. There is new metro station in the DC metro area. It is RIFE with problems:

        Silver Spring Transit Center to get new layer of concrete to address construction flaws
        By Bill Turque,September 06, 2013
        Washington Post

        "The $120 million bus and train hub at Georgia Ave. and Colesville Rd. is more than two years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget. Issues with concrete — including cracks, insufficient thickness and questions about strength in some areas — have played a major role in the delay." -- Washington Post []

        I can imagine managers are thinking, "What the hell? How many metro stations are there in this region? In this country?? There's no new concepts here! You people all have P.E's! The processes for design are totally standardized! How could this possibly happen?"

      • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @01:45PM (#45516413) Homepage

        Managers want to look at us - programmers, software engineers - as totally fungible, mere factory robots.

        They have the same attitude towards accountants, secretaries, anyone who works on an assembly line, salespeople, HR reps, etc. There's fundamental contempt in the business world for people who actually produce stuff, like they're somehow deficient or inferior to those who go around reprioritizing action items to create synergies in the digital marketplace. That contempt can even spread towards relatively high-status people who produce stuff e.g. how big media companies treat musicians or actors.

        From what I've seen so far, the cause of this is that management typically has gone to business school, and what they learn in business school is precisely to treat employees as replaceable components of a system. It's even in the language they use: "Personnel" became "Human Resources", making it clear that instead of flesh-and-blood humans like the managers themselves, rank-and-file employees were tools to be used up and then discarded.

        I'd consider loading these folks up on a "B" Ark ship, except that I'm reasonably certain that if we removed one set of parasites another set would take over just as assuredly.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:51AM (#45514419)

    CGI was selected in part because they were one of only a handful of companies that got on the task order from DHHS that covered this and many other big CMS contracts. This system is designed to make it extremely difficult to just start a business and put out a bid. The justifications for it are very flimsy and center around things like making sure that some fly-by-night company doesn't get the contract/screening out junk bids. Poblem is, they don't actually work. In many cases, they just let the "primes" that win the slots act as funnels for the actual work done by subcontracts which just adds to the cost of the contract.

    Another thing, if the reddit thread on this was correct, CMS needs to do what the DoD increasingly does with overtime which is to scrutinize or reject invoices with more than 80 hours per two weeks per employee unless the overtime was either authorized or can be explained in reasonable terms. Overworked government contractors don't get rich; their employers do at the expense of the employee and government. One thing often left unappreciated by the general public is that unpaid overtime is literally stealing employment from the employee because a salaried employee is only authorized to bill so many hours to a contract during a period of performance.

    • One thing often left unappreciated by the general public is that unpaid overtime is literally stealing employment from the employee because a salaried employee is only authorized to bill so many hours to a contract during a period of performance.

      Unpaid overtime is ALWAYS stealing from the employee, whether the employee is government, a contractor, or private sector. The employee agreed to work 40 hours for X amount of compensation. If the employee is working more than that, they deserve to be compensated. if they are working less than that, they deserve to have their pay reduced.

  • If Only... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 25, 2013 @10:54AM (#45514431)

    If only there was this much scrutiny and post-mortem analysis over other government failures such as, oh, I don't know, the multi-BILLION dollar failure joint strike force fighter that nobody wants (other than private contractors who are making billions).

    Thank gawd, however, that we have this eagle eyed scrutiny over a website that's a few months over deadline and a few million over budget.

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:09AM (#45514579)

    when non-engineers that dont understand technology but make engineering decisions, shit like this happens.


  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:15AM (#45514645)

    The task was simple. Make a friggin website that takes user input and spits out insurance options. If this happened where I work, they'd fire the whole lot without question. Probably enact some kind of legal investigation as to where all the money went too.

    If Congress can't handle a simple friggin website project, it's time to clean house and Enact term limits. Restructure the entire congressional seating process, and give people more control over who's buying the laws for us. It's time to change that whole mess.

  • Themoclineof Truth (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZombieBraintrust ( 1685608 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:31AM (#45514803)
    Seems to be a clasic case of the Themocline of Truth. []
  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:37AM (#45514897)
    Bureaucrats are comfortable generating reality. To a large extent this becomes their job; if you are in charge of an environmental clean up you will move the goalposts around to match what you can do, and if you can't even meet these mutable goals you figure out a way to measure it so that the result are met. Plus you take any reports that indicate failure and "massage" them until they look good; and if the underlings who create these horrible truths won't shut up you punish them or just get rid of them.

    This works well when the facts are a bit fuzzy and you are able to control the flow of information to your superiors and ideally the public. The problem is that the skillset that enables these people to survive and thrive in a bureaucracy aren't the skills required to deliver a functioning and realistic test passing product. So you have a product such as which is going to be wildly exposed to the public and the scrutiny of people you can't control (the press and political opposition) and oddly enough it blows up.

    People look at the hard numbers and say this is a pile of crap that doesn't work. Yet I am willing to bet two key things are happening:
    One is that there are reports flowing up to the top people (who don't understand technology) that are a combination of saying that it works far better than the "detractors" are claiming while simultaniously blaming some other party with lesser abilities to communicate with said superiors.
    And two that the company that won this contract is awesome at participating in this reality distorting circlejerk. I bet that the reports and other paperwork was Washington gold; the product of top-of-the-class-MBAs. People for whom facts are not only to be ignored but to be looked at with suspicion and hostility.

    So the question of which development style should have been used or which technology was best are nearly moot; in that every choice would have been made based upon the criteria of "It must look good in a report"

    I suspect that the only lesson learned from this in Washington is that if you love your career that you should not get involved in a project that involves a measurable end product that is delivered to the public.

    The various opposition groups will probably try to score various points based upon actual facts such as cronyism and poor testing but the reality is that 5 minutes into getting power they would hand a similar project over to their insider friends and primarily demand good paperwork over an actual product.

    So to prevent this type of disaster you can't look at say agile practices in software but maybe agile type practices within government itself.
  • Apollo 13 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:47AM (#45515019)
    Way to take that line out of context. "Failure is not an option." wasn't about general day to day stuff, it was about saving the lives of 3 astronauts during an emergency situation. In fact, the mission (LANDING ON THE FREEKIN MOON) was indeed a failure.... They DIDN'T do it!

    The whole "failure is not an option" thing is fine when you have lives in danger and the whole world is watching, but you don't get to use it about your website, no matter how many jobs are at stake. The message to take away here is "Even a million jobs are not worth 1 human life." If you understand and live by that, you will be a better person. Otherwise, you're just another scumbag millionaire who doesn't care about people.
  • by EMG at MU ( 1194965 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:51AM (#45515067)
    In my group there is a person with that specific responsibility. They communicate the possibility of not meeting a deadline and make contingency plans to get the best result given the circumstances.

    That person should be fired, and IIRC they have already resigned.

    Now find senior advisors who weren't responsible for communicating the risks but knew about them anyways. Ask them why they didn't communicate the risks to the President and based on their answer either fire them or reprimand them.

    Send the message that there will be accountability. Why is that important? Unfortunately, be it in Government or the private sector, there is a culture of "that wasn't my job". Everyone knows the project will fail, every single fucking person from the junior engineer to the senior project director know. But everyone winks at each other across the table at meetings and agrees that "failure is not an option, it will be done on time". And inside their heads and within their small groups everyone is saying "well it's not my job to sound the alarm". There is no incentive to take that political hit and say "Boss, we might have told you several times that everything is OK but honestly there are some severe risks to launching by the deadline and we need to start planning for a delay or reduction in features". Instead, when shit hits the fan it's like a mexican gunfight, everyone points a finger at someone else and says "well he knew too" or "that wasn't my job to bring up that this would never work."

    Engineering is hard, failure happens. It really shouldn't be punished (except where people just failed to do their jobs), instead it should be learned from so that the same mistakes are not made again.

    One day, when software engineering management is a real discipline, they will pound it into the heads of MBAs and PMPs that failure is not only an option, its the most common result so make sure the lines of communication are open, that people feel comfortable communicating risks and saying no, and that all the stakeholders know that the engineers cannot travel through time, so if you start a 1 year project 9 months before you want it to launch then you are SOL and have to pick what features are most important.

    I hate "you have more than one number one priority" more than "failure is not an option" and I feel people who say one usually say the other.
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:53AM (#45515097)

    a culture that prefers deluding the boss over delivering bad news isn't well equipped to try new things

    In a former life I did a lot of gov contracting. For any project, you couldn't get your GPM (gov program manager) to sign off on anything. Why? Because they had to go to their boss to get approval. Who also had to go to their boss to get approval and so on.

    Why? Because they didn't want to be the one to blame if something went wrong. If anything, they were very apt to go up the flag pole for anything, but the issue was you never got an answer for anything.

    This seems to be the case for, no one made actionable decisions.

  • Richard Feynman (Score:4, Informative)

    by Gim Tom ( 716904 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @11:59AM (#45515181)
    I think what Richard Feynman said at then end of the appendix to the report on the Space Shuttle Challenger failure may also apply in this situation.

    For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. --Richard Feynman
  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:00PM (#45515189)

    ... and the gulf between planning and reality.

    Planning? What planning? Hoping. Commanding. Directing. Praying. Lying. Concealing. Misdirecting. Deceiving. But no "planning" of the type that experienced project managers would recognize.

  • by Dan667 ( 564390 ) on Monday November 25, 2013 @12:27PM (#45515451)
    One of the most helpful things I ever realized is that Design and Management think in terms of yes / no and Engineers think in terms of shades of gray. It will work vs it will work to "x" sigma are very different things and you have to have some skill to translate.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?