All the recent news about the ObamaCare (technically the Affordable Care Act) website -- HealthCare.gov -- causes one to question government's competence to design and develop computer systems. Is HealthCare.gov an outlier or just another government computer failure?
According to Jonathon Moseley, "government computer failures are normal." In an article posted last week at American Thinker, Moseley asked:
"How could the U.S. Government make such a mess of the roll-out of the website for ObamaCare?" He then answers by saying, "Actually, government computer systems incompetence is normal. The reaction to www.HealthCare.gov presupposes that our government normally does these things well."
Moseley goes on to cite several examples of government computer failures:
"The Internal Revenue Service made an even worse disaster out of its $8 billion computer upgrade project labeled it's "Business Systems Modernization." First, the IRS wasted $3 billion in the 1990s. Then the IRS stated over in 1999 with a new attempt. By 2004, eight major projects were over-budget by $200 million, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office and the congressionally chartered IRS Oversight Board. The first stage to go live was three years behind schedule and $36.8 million over budget.
"Old news? Well, did we learn anything? By the time we get to ObamaCare, why is Washington still repeating the same mistakes? CIO Magazine wrote in 2004: "Contracts with vendors didn't have clear deliverables. And no one, either within the IRS or among its dozens of contractors, was held accountable for results."
The IRS's "Business Systems Modernization" is not the only example Moseley wrote about. At the U.S. Transportation Department, the FAA "botched the $438 million computer upgrade for Air Traffic Controllers" and "a separate $2.4 billion high-altitude system has also gone over-budget by $300 million, and may cost yet another $200 million more." He also cites a couple of Defense computer systems that are over budget.
Before ending this post, let's Growl about the cost of HealthCare.gov. A month ago on October 11, Fox News reported in part:
"The website Digital Trends reported on Thursday that, based on government documents displaying contracts awarded to CGI Federal Inc., the Canadian-based company which in 2011 won a $93 million contract to build the federal healthcare exchange, the cost of HealthCare.gov was about at $634 million.
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"But officials tell FoxNews.com that the contract figures cited by Digital Trends dated all the way back to 2008, well before the Affordable Care Act was passed, and included other CGI Federal projects not even associated with the new Obamacare exchange.
"Digital Trends has since revised its numbers down, settling on an estimate of $500 million, taking into account a figure of $398 million in obligated contracts for building the website and the entire technology portion of the FFE – which includes everything from the massive data hub, call centers, network security, training and support, financial management systems and all other information technology services that support the new online and offline marketplace, as reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in June.
"The site estimated that more than $100 million more had been spent on salaries and administrative costs, which were not included in the GAO tallies, bringing the figure for the FFE costs to more than $500 million.
"But what do we really know about the cost of the website itself?
"According to the GAO report, CGI Federal was awarded $88 million (out of the $398 million total) through March 31, for both the FFE information technology and HealthCare.gov. So far, the company has declined to comment how much of that was exclusively used for the website."
Moseley concludes his essay with the following thoughts:
"Liberals spin grandiose schemes of utopias based on their belief that government can work miracles, that government can spin straw into gold. Conservatives oppose those flim-flam scams partly because government cannot actually accomplish what liberals hope. From the Federal Reserve creating economic growth out of thin air, to inventing green energy jobs, to controlling global climate, to changing human nature, to wishing away problems, liberalism depends fundamentally on a belief in the god-like omnipotence of government.
"Portrayed as heartless and uncaring, conservatives would love to see the benefits that liberals day dream about. But conservatives live in the real world, where facts govern. Conservatives are not fooled when liberals put on their Professor Harold Hill routine, trying to sell air to the voters. The limitations of government must be clearly confronted. Liberals assume that government, being their god, can do anything. Conservatives have their doubts."
Kudos to Mr. Moseley and to Fox News for their reporting on the cost of HealthCare.gov.