A detailed report from the Washington Post on Saturday, titled HealthCare.gov contractor had high confidence but low success, revealed more information about some of the troubles behind the scenes during the development of the healthcare.gov website. It’s a lengthy read, but it’s recommended you read the full article to get the full scope of the story.
The report provides further background on the work performed by the project’s primary contractor, CGI, and the growing concern from federal officials that the work was not proceeding as expected in the months and weeks leading up to the launch.
The article begins:
At 9 a.m. on Aug. 22, a team of federal health officials sat down in a Baltimore conference room with at least a dozen employees of CGI Federal, the company with the main contract to build the online federal health insurance marketplace. For six weeks, the federal officials overseeing the project had become increasingly worried that CGI was missing deadlines, understaffing the work and overstating its progress.
As the meeting began, one of the officials reminded the CGI employees that HealthCare.gov was “the president’s number one priority,” assured them that the discussion would be a “blame-free zone,” and then bored in. “We must be honest and open with each other,” the official said, according to documents obtained from participants in the session. “I have to know what I don’t know.”
The top CGI executive in the room sounded contrite. “We recognize we have to build trust back . . . ” said Cheryl Campbell, the company’s senior vice president in charge of the project.
For that day and the next, CGI staff huddled with government officials in the semicircular conference room at the headquarters of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency overseeing the project. They combed through 15 pages of spreadsheets they had brought, which spelled out the company’s level of confidence — high, medium or low — that individual components would be ready.
The article goes on to cite a final “pre-flight checklist” a week before the site’s launch that showed “41 of 91 separate functions” that were still not working, as well as a spreadsheet dated the day of the launch identifying “30 defects on features scheduled to have been working already,” including 5 classified as “critical.”
A government official described that while the contractor often met deliverable deadlines on components during those weeks before the launch, “they contained such faulty computer code that features did not hold up under closer scrutiny — or failed later if more than several thousand people at a time tried to use them.”
The article also cites details from some of the emails that were recently released by House committees investigating the rollout issues, in which officials on the project share concern about the contractor’s performance.
As the launch drew closer, officials tried to mitigate issues by scaling back some of the scope of the remaining items, as is detailed near the conclusion of the Post’s article.
By the time Campbell and CGI employees drove from their Herndon offices to CMS’s Baltimore headquarters, the agency’s staff had decided it had no choice but to try to find out exactly how far along the contractor was, and set priorities for having less done by the launch date than anyone had hoped. Toward the start of the meeting, one official asked the CGI team point-blank: “How much of the function is developed? How much is left to develop? How much of the function’s requirements will be met? How sound is the development?” according to documents from the session.
CGI’s rankings of high, medium and low were only for parts of the insurance exchange that, at that point, were supposed to be ready by Oct. 1. The two spreadsheets they presented show that, for each item, CGI employees had written a date when they said it would be built and tested enough by the company that it was ready to be evaluated by outsiders. During the meeting, CGI employees acknowledged that they considered an item ready for outside testing if the computer code for it was 75 percent ready, documents show.
Of 95 elements that CGI evaluated, employees said they had high confidence in 45 of them. Of the 45, 16 of the high ratings were for SHOP, the part of the exchange to sell health plans to small businesses — a function where further testing found that it worked so poorly that it is still not yet available.
The “anonymous shopping” feature — in which consumers were to be able to browse health plans without creating an account — also was rated as a high-confidence item. It never made it onto the “pre-flight” assessment because, by then, government officials had decided that it was too flawed to offer at the outset.
A senior administration official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said he was not aware of any indication the “pre-flight” review ever reached the White House.
Of course, there are numerous contributing factors for the problems with the healthcare.gov launch, which include the lack of a single empowered decision-making authority and the complexity and flaws with the law in general, among others. But this article offers some insight into some of the development and project management challenges.
It’s a lengthy article with a lot of information. While some of the details have been previously reported, it’s presented all together in the context of the weeks leading into the launch. Read the whole thing at the Washington Post.DONATE
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