Diagnosing the Online Health Exchange Debacle: "Proprietary" Software Needs a Dose of Open Source

Amy Goddman and Juan Gonzalez | Democracy Now | October 25, 2013

As the problem-plagued roll-out of President Obama’s signature healthcare policy undergoes congressional scrutiny for the first time, we speak with Clay Johnson, a former Obama campaign innovation expert who founded Blue State Digital, the company that built Obama’s 2008 website. During a House panel on Thursday, lawmakers questioned executives of two of the lead contractors behind the website, healthcare.gov — CGI Federal and Quality Software Systems Incorporated — about the myriad of glitches and defects. Johnson says the new website is built with outdated and proprietary software. "When the government is building software like this, it ought to be built out in the open — built with a licensing system called open source so that the public truly owns it," Johnson says. He notes that "In 1996, Congress lobotomized itself by getting rid of its technology think tank called the Technology Assessment Office. So they’re writing bills where they don’t understand the technology required in their laws."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The problem-plagued roll-out of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare policy has undergone congressional scrutiny for the first time. During a House panel on Thursday, lawmakers questioned technology contractors about a myriad of defects with the healthcare.gov website. The online portal for uninsured Americans in 36 states has been marred by crashes, glitches and system failures since it went live earlier this month. The website’s launch began a six-month enrollment period that is expected to draw an estimated seven million people to sign up for federally subsidized private insurance for 2014. During the hearing, Republican Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania accused the Obama administration of wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

REP. TIM MURPHY: We were promised a website where people could easily compare plans and costs. $500 million later, we find the American public have been dumped with the ultimate cash for clunkers, except they had to pay the cash and still got the clunker...