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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Let us now praise competence.

The praise is overdue. Competence is like the dull, but reliable husband a woman spurns for some sexy stranger with a flashy car. Then she finds out her new fellow has the manners of a pig, the depth of a wading pool and absolutely no interest in helping her study for her real estate license. Suddenly, dull and reliable don’t seem nearly so bad.

We find ourselves learning that lesson on a national level for the second time in eight years.

The first was in 2005. We had been seduced by compassionate conservatism that shot from the hip and reacted from the gut. Then we discovered none of that could get water and food to a major American city in the wake of a devastating storm.

In 2008, we were smitten with hope and change, with urbane cool and thoughtful pragmatism. Now we learn none of that can build a website that works worth beans.

So yes, let us now praise competence.

Some will call it unfair to compare the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina with the Obama administration’s botched rollout of health care reform. They will note that as Team Bush dithered and “Heckuva Job, Brownie” tried to assemble the proper wardrobe for managing a crisis, Americans were dying. By contrast, for as much as people may have wailed, “Kill me now!” as it crashed, froze and mangled their information, didn’t actually kill anyone.

But the observation misses the point. If these two debacles are unalike in impact, they are much alike in one critical regard: The people in charge saw this moment coming, had time to prepare and failed.

Consider: Katrina became a hurricane on Aug. 25 and entered the Gulf of Mexico the next day. It smacked the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Yet, even with that much lead time, it wasn’t until Sept. 2 that the first convoy of supplies reached the stricken city of New Orleans.

Similarly, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010 with a provision allowing uninsured Americans to begin purchasing insurance online beginning now, October 2013. Yet, as this month draws to a close, would-be users of the website still find themselves stymied, frustrated and unable.

  • Independent1

    What Leonard is overlooking is that what’s happening with the ACA website wasn’t a government failure at all but a planned GOP terror attack on something Obama created. It’s hard, for me at least, to believe that professional programmers could create as big a mess as it sounds like the ACA website is, without it being done intentionally. Sabotaged either by those coding the programs, or those who gave the programmers the specifications (I was a programmer for almost 30 years and involved in implementing numerous health and life insurance related systems). Admittedly, since the website has to interface with the exchanges of many different states and the convoluted plan structures of many health insurers, ACA was a very complex effort to begin with; so it wouldn’t have taken much collusion to really mess things up. The Senate should convene an exploratory panel to find out what created the problem – it was not just simple programming error – it was intentional.

    • montanabill

      Obviously, it was Bush’s fault. I was also a programmer for well over 30 years and spent the latter part of it building systems that could interface and fix the crap that came out of insurance company systems when they either couldn’t or wouldn’t follow industry standards. And as someone who also spent a few years working for government contractors, I can attest to the fact that government bureaucrats haven’t got a clue how to create a good set of specifications, and the contractors get rich off their incompetence. GOP attack? Get in the real world. The GOP didn’t have a thing to do with this mess.

      • highpckts

        You are probably right but I’ll bet they wish they had!!

      • darkagesbegin

        well, bill, why don’t you just get in there and fix things lickity-split, as we all know you can…

  • Jim Myers

    The website glitches can be explained in a fairly simple manner.

    Lowest bidder wins.

    The same reason why so many military projects run into huge overruns. Only, Congress has no problem paying for military overruns.

    However, overruns were either not discussed, or were shot down before they could even have a chance of improving the website.

    Massive pre-testing should have been in the original plans before the site opened to the public.

    Was any pre-testing even waged? If so, what were the results?

    Was there even an attempt to overload the system prior to the rollout? If not, why not contract some of the same people, companies and countries who make it a practice of attacking servers at banks, military installations, corporations, etc.

    They certainly have the expertise to provide overload traffic to these sites. They would probably have been happy to overload the servers of a huge government website, and may not even have charged for the service.

    After all, that would have given them a site where they can train new programmers without any retribution.

    Win, Win for all.

  • Justin Napolitano

    Let me tell you what really happened. As a software developer the toughest part of any software product to test is the problems that will occur once the program is given to the users. The users will do things you can never test for. Users will use outdated browsers and operating systems that have never been updated. User will start a process and then just shut off their systems leaving the program hanging waiting for a response. The part that is the hardest to test is the error coding because it requires an error for that code to be used. And only first time users are able to cause the errors that need to be tested. In a perfect world all the testing would be done in advance but it would take months of testing to simulate what the real world does in just days. the problems will get fixed in record time because the Web site developers now know where the problems are and have millions of people causing all manner of problems.

    • Independent1

      Being unrealistic is standard operating procedure for the GOP when it gives them a chance to turn a fixable problem into an unpresidented disaster. I’m sure you’ve noticed that none of these GOP hypocrites has mentioned that when the Medicare Part D rollout was done by the Bush Administration back 2003, something far less complex than the ACA rollout (the Fed Website didn’t have to interact with numerous existing state-created exchange websites), the rollout was so bad it actually took 6 months to get the bugs fixed.

    • wjca

      It is certainly true that real users canfind ways to make a system fail that developers never imagined. (“Nobody would do that!”) But having only two weeks before rollout for testing means that even the sorts of things that the developers could imagine don’t all get tested for.

      Every software project I have ever been around allocated too little time (and resources) for testing. But the ACA seems to have been exceptionally deficient in that respect.

  • Allan Richardson

    The only way to test a system that is not yet live, which has to interface with existing systems run by other entities (corporations, government agencies), is to have those other entities set up “testing” copies of their systems to communicate with the new system. This allows sending and receiving “test” data without putting that test data into a live database on the other end, or having searches return real data into a new test system. In the case of health insurance, HIPAA could even be involved, making it ILLEGAL for a new system being tested to interface with other systems already online.

    If the people you need to test with refuse to bring up a test system, you have to take the specs for their live system interface and build one on your site. If those specs are incorrect, or if their live system has errors (perhaps the interface to your system has not even been coded), you WILL NOT KNOW IT until your system goes live.

    Since some of the entities that Obamacare’s web site has to interface with are the IRS, the state revenue departments of states which collect income taxes, the Medicaid systems (federal and in each state), and several others, and since some of those are controlled by state governments hostile to Obamacare (and to the President himself), such “passive sabotage” is not entirely ruled out without an investigation. And there might also have been “active sabotage” by technical employees and contractors also. We are watching to see what comes up next, but I expect the bugs to be fixed in a timely way, and I also do not expect the Obama administration to “confront” the GOP by exposing whatever sabotage is found (it will be excused as “errors,” justifying their firing, but still only “errors”). I feel that, if passive management sabotage in the states (or insurance companies), or active technical sabotage, is discovered, he SHOULD expose it to the nation, but so far he has been just too “nice” to call a foul on his enemies (who have become the enemies of millions of Americans with their attitudes).