The Healthcare.gov site has been in the news since its failure to launch on October 1, 2013. The site has become the colossal government IT failure of this decade.
Sadly, it is proving to be an unfortunate setback for several positive initiatives in the federal space, especially former Federal CIO Vivek Kundra‘s 25-point plan to reform federal IT management and the OMB Circular A-130 with its Guidelines for Modular Development. It appears the team working on the healthcare site was not following federal government guidance established by the Office of the Federal CIO. Now, current Federal CIO Todd Park has been called in to help clean up the mess.
As we dissect the reasons for failure of Healthcare, I for one am hoping that it will serve as a strong lesson on how not to run a large IT program. So, if ever there was a modern-day argument for agile development, it comes from the Healthcare.gov site. On October 23, 2013, I shared my view on the issues with the troubled rollout of Healthcare.gov via comments in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).
You can listen to the NPR program and my comments here.
Over the next few weeks, I’d also like to share, snippet-by-snippet, the fundamental issues with Healthcare.gov and their debilitating effects on the project and website. Here’s the first one: too many cooks in the kitchen.
Per this Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, 55 companies were contracted to deliver the system (see page 32). So, what happens when you hire 55 companies to produce code? They produce code and they produce code, right? After all, that’s what they were paid to do. How much were they paid? Looks like taxpayers paid in the region of $500 million, and got what each of the 55 companies probably felt obligated to produce: lots of code.
Exactly how much code? Estimates put the size of Healthcare.gov at a gargantuan 500 million lines of code! Okay, I personally find it very hard to believe that the code base is that large, and want to see more data to confirm that number. But, for sure, all those cooks produced an enormous spaghetti-like mess of a system. Make no mistake – this enormously large code base that is unwieldy, buggy and instantly becomes a legacy system.
More to come, but until then, I’ll leave you with this additional visualization of the apparent relative size of Healthcare.gov compared with other large systems. Scroll to the bottom of the page to visualize how 500 million lines of code stacks up.