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January 11, 2014

Unexpectedly! Obama Administration Throws CGI Federal Under the Bus

Imagine you worked for a large federal agency tasked with designing, developing, and delivering the largest, most complex federal IT system in this nation's history. Current benchmarks exist - for 10 years, the UK's National Health Service has been trying to construct a federal health records system (something your administration talks about all the time). But after a decade of development and over 11 billion dollars of taxpayer money, the system was deemed a complete failure and was abandoned.

To function correctly, your system must seamlessly and quickly interface with an absolutely mind boggling number of federal and state agencies running - in many cases - antiquated systems of their own. The number of people it must serve and agencies it must interface with dwarf the failed NHS e-records system. Undaunted, you press on.


Inexplicably, you ignore the primary contractor's repeated warnings that the delivery date is completely unrealistic and the system can't possibly be tested thoroughly in the government mandated time frame, compounding an earlier decision to ignore the contractor's warnings that they had no experience with the non-standard database system you selected over their objections, and that the resulting learning curve would introduce additional delays into an already unrealistic timeline:

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. Government officials disagreed, and its configuration remains a serious problem.

Finally the system makes its debut on the mandated delivery date. Of course it only works 40% of the time, but durnitall, you delivered on time! This is obviously proof that those silly contractors were just making excuses. They tried to pull the wool over your eyes, but you weren't fooled were you? Only saps pay attention to the peasants actually doing the work.

After weeks of circling the wagons and shooting every messenger in sight, you're finally forced to admit what everyone already knows - you delivered too early and that pesky contractor was right - the time allotted for testing wouldn't have been adequate for a minor point release of an existing application with NO interfaces. Your response? Fred Brooks be damned - nine women CAN TOO make a baby in one month! You throw more bodies onto the project: people who know nothing about the code or architecture, who will spend most of their time just trying to wrap their minds around a project of unprecedented and mind-boggling complexity.

But they're smart people.

You call this idiocy a "tech surge", a moniker no doubt meant to remind the nation of your wildly successful Afghan surge. You know, the one that raised American casualties to an all time high but which yielded absolutely no long term gain. The deeply cynical strategy that blithely ordered American men and women to put their lives on the line for a plan you didn't believe would work.

Well at least you were right on that score!

The media politely refrain from asking too many questions about your tech surge, though eventually even they can't stomach your deception:

Talk about burying the lede. Deep within a 5,000-word story published today in the New York Times about the Obamacare website launch is the very damaging disclosure that the much-vaunted “tech surge” promised by the president in late October was mostly just a publicity stunt. In truth, the number of people brought in to work on the project was no more than “about a half-dozen.”

Not only that, despite the Obama Administration’s claims that it met its November 30 deadline to have things fully operational, it turns out that much of the software code that operates away from website users and passes their information along to insurance companies has not even been written.

Think about that for a moment - somehow 6 people, brought on board only 5 weeks before the Nov. 30th deadline, are somehow magically going to fix things. It would take that long just to understand it fully.

Remember how the media repeatedly referred to George Bush's Iraq Surge - a plan that added more than 20,000 soldiers over two years to the war effort - as the "so-called" surge? But somehow, half a dozen people over 5 weeks is the real deal.

Faced with a system that is not only incomplete (remember, the much vaunted "tech surge" didn't even result in a completed system!) but still bug ridden, what do you do?

If you're the Obama administration, the answer is obvious: fire the primary contractor and bring in a company with no experience with a federal system of this size and complexity:

The Obama administration has decided to jettison from HealthCare.gov the IT contractor, CGI Federal, that has been mainly responsible for building the defect-ridden online health insurance marketplace and has been immersed in the work of repairing it.

Federal health officials are preparing to sign early next week a 12-month contract worth roughly $90 million with a different company, Accenture, after concluding that CGI has not been effective enough in fixing the intricate computer system underpinning the federal Web site, according to a person familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss private negotiations.

Accenture, one of the world’s largest consulting firms, has extensive experience with computer systems on the state level and built California’s large new health-insurance exchange. But it has not done substantial work on any Health and Human Services Department program.

In what alternate universe does bringing in people who don't know the code or the architecture or the project history magically result in faster and better performance?

At some point, the Smart Folks at 1600 Pennsylvania may want to consider the old adage that says the common element in every failed relationship can generally be found staring back at us from the mirror.

Posted by Cassandra at January 11, 2014 09:18 AM

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The incompetent demand of others, the competent demand of themselves. Like the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Posted by: htom at January 11, 2014 09:35 PM

1. @Surprise!@
2. Looks like the lovely hostess knows herself some IT.
3. Dead certain Feds do *Not* understand IT. Kinda surprised the contract didn't mandate coding in COBOL or ADA (ap?).
4. heh heh heh . . . most 'kids' will figure out pretty quick that Obummercare is not only major fail incompetent, but screws them major league style. Guessing this at least keeps many of them away from 2014 polls, and perhaps drives a few to actually vote GOP out of simple anger.
5. Mildly disappointed we haven't seen reporting yet on just how badly over budget the Obummercare enterprise really is. In addition to the coming 'death spiral,' the administration has unilaterally made modifications that will *greatly* add to the cost. Can't hide that for a year . . .

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at January 11, 2014 10:30 PM

Princess, you ignorant slut! The name of the game is (our)Income (to his friends)Redistribution. Xerxes said as much in his first non-TOTUS moment with Joe the Plumber. CGI got it's $364 billion. It's time for somebody else to get a warm and fuzzy. Solyndra, A123, GE, Government Motors Union, Wall Street,....they all got theirs.
Just think of him as a giant fan just spreadin' the wealth.

Posted by: DL Sly at January 11, 2014 11:33 PM

I think I read somewhere yesterday that Accenture worked on the failed NHS system (which last time I checked was a "national" system - precisely what the press are saying they have no experience with!), but pulled out in 2006.

It's almost as though no one wants to bring up (or even admit the existence of) the failed NHS e-records project at all :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 12, 2014 12:04 PM

"It's almost as though no one wants to bring up (or even admit the existence of) the failed NHS e-records project at all :p"

Well, that does belie the narrative, yanno.

Posted by: DL Sly at January 12, 2014 04:12 PM


Posted by: Texan99 at January 18, 2014 12:21 PM

Is that a dirivative of ipicac?

Posted by: DL Sly at January 19, 2014 12:00 AM