Who knew it could be so difficult to build an effective, user-friendly website capable of efficiently serving up complex information for millions of users? Quite a few people, actually. And that’s why the Obama administration’s bungling of the most public aspect of its signature policy initiative is so baffling. As White House officials never tire of telling us, this is the coolest, most tech-savvy administration ever. Well, maybe not. Governing is a lot harder than campaigning, and that’s especially true when it comes to implementing technology.
There’s been a lot of venting from frustrated users and some good analysis about what possibly went wrong. It’s becoming clear that many supporters of the Affordable Care Act, not just opponents, voiced concerns about the website well before the Oct. 1 rollout. What’s not clear is why officials didn’t take those concerns seriously enough to either make significant changes or seek to delay the rollout.
Equally puzzling is why the Health and Human Services Department didn’t take advantage of the General Services Administration’s First Friday’s Usability Testing Program, according to a report by my colleague Joseph Marks. Hundreds of volunteers participate in the program to evaluate agency websites and other digital offerings for design, navigation and ease of use before they are released to the public. For free. Officials estimate the program has saved taxpayers more than $2 million in costs avoided by fixing problems before websites are launched.
As more information emerges about the roles of contractors involved in developing HealthCare.gov we’ll no doubt learn that one culprit in this debacle is the technology acquisition process itself. It’s worth noting that perhaps the only area of bipartisan cooperation in the House right now is on the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act.