In a feat of journalistic access, the cover story in the current Time magazine offers a glimpse inside the “hastily assembled group of tech wizards” who came to Washington to revive the near-collapsed HealthCare.gov. The behind-the-paywall feature titled “Code Red” is by longtime legal publisher Steven Brill, who has executed a series of Time probes of the politically volatile Affordable Care Act, providing rich insight into the intersection of Silicon Valley and D.C. cultures.
Among Brill’s findings:
- On Oct. 17, President Obama was considering scrapping the balky Obamacare website to start over;
- The team that got the site up and running in six weeks was a group of “unknown—except in elite technology circles—coders and troubleshooters who dropped what they were doing in various enterprises across the country," some of them veterans of the Obama political campaign.
- Brill tells the story of “an Obama administration obsessed with health care reform policy but above the nitty-gritty of implementing it;"
- A coder named Gabriel Burt from Chicago, flew into Columbia, Md., on Oct. 18 to stay at the DoubleTree hotel for what he thought would be two or three days, but stayed until Dec. 6;
- The key mistake by Obama’s folks was touting their campaign marketing data-analytics “whiz kids” instead of the “technologists who enabled them;”
- Among the “jaw-dropping” revelations was that the original HealthCare.gov had no dashboard for engineers to measure user actions;
- None of the techies could tell who was the “leader” of the website rollout;
- The rescue squad’s ethic was “the stand-up culture—identify problem, solve problem, try again;” and, last but not least:
- “One lesson of the fall and rise of HealthCare.gov has to be that the practice of awarding high-tech, high-stakes contracts to companies whose primary skill seems to be getting those contracts rather than delivering on them has to change.”