Why Healthcare.gov Went Wrong—A Lack Of “Agile”

Tim Fernholz | Quartz | October 25, 2013

In 2010, less than a year into his presidency, Barack Obama told a group of CEOs that the government’s “best efforts are thwarted because the technological revolution that has transformed our society over the past two decades has yet to reach many parts of our government.” He outlined priorities to make the government a better user and buyer of information technology. Now, his administration’s signature initiative is embroiled in a massive IT project gone wrong. Here are the main reasons.

The federal government isn’t good at buying IT services. Most large public IT projects are over-budget or over-time. While it’s still a mystery exactly why people trying to sign up for insurance on healthcare.gov faced site crashes and data transfer problems, there’s general agreement that procurement and workflow procedures—how the government buys stuff—is at the heart of the problem.

Government employees in charge of contracts are trained to buy either large, discrete objects like battleships or simple services, like painting a room. Neither one is a good analogy to hiring a company to design and maintain a website for the public to use. [...]