When the government’s health insurance shopping site Healthcare.gov first launched on October 1st, it was obvious that something was very wrong. The site rejected valid passwords, served up blank drop-down menus, and crashed repeatedly. After millions of visits on the first day, only six people got all the way through.
Even more remarkable than the scale of the catastrophe was the speed with which the site was fixed. An Oceans 11-style recruitment effort pulled together a team of about a dozen technologists and managers who packed their bags, flew to Washington, DC, and worked for two months straight, including Thanksgiving. By early December, Consumer Reports had reversed its opinion of Healthcare.gov from “stay away” to “it’s terrific.” Monday, the official deadline to sign up for health insurance, was one of Healthcare.gov’s biggest traffic days. It stumbled, but quickly recovered and signed up 217,176 people in 24 hours.
The fact that Healthcare.gov now works shows that government can do tech right — it just doesn’t, most of the time. Healthcare.gov is the latest in a long tradition of botched government tech projects: just look at the Airforce’s $1 billion Expeditionary Combat Support System that never materialized, the FBI’s $170 million Virtual Case File system that had to be scrapped and restarted, or the $6 million reboot of USAjobs.gov that cost an additional $1 million to fix.
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