By Peter Galuszka
With all the bloviating one reads about the introductory failures of ObamaCare, a big, big point is being missed. It could very well be that the concept of ObamaCare is viable if not admirable, but the government badly bungled how it hired an under-performing, private lead contractor for the system.
That raises an entirely new and different set of questions. The concept of ObamaCare is solid. It seems to be so in California and Kentucky which are among 14 states that chose to go with their own state-based health care plan exchanges. Neither state had any problems signing people up. Demand is apparently there.
In the case of the federal exchange, there seems to be some uncertainty about how the Obama Administration handling bidding for the overseer of developing the so-called “Federal Facilitated Marketplace” exchange through which people could apply for health plans.
Some accounts claim there was only one real bidder, a Canadian firm named CGI Federal, while others say that the Department of Health and Human Services received four bids from 16 pre-qualified bidders. Problems have come up before with contractors handling government system design. One only look back a few years at Virginia state government’s debacle with Northrop Grumman, but more later.
CGI Federal is a wholly owned subsidiary of CGI Group based in Montreal. It has sales of about $4.8 billion and 72,000 employees, many in India and about 11,000 in the U.S.
It has had some experience designing health care website, some of it unhappy. CGI tried to design a health registry for diabetes sufferers in Ontario for $46.5 million but the province ditched the firm after three years of missed deadlines. The Washington Post reports that CGI did have more success with the U.S. government, notably helping with a system for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
CGI Federal, based in Herndon, isn’t a big player – only the 29th largest IT contractor for the U.S. government – but it does a lot of lobbying, spending $800,000 since 2006. That’s peanuts compared to what Lockheed Martin or Raytheon do.
CGI Federal got the contract to lead up to 55 smaller contractors. The bidding history is murky. The Washington Examiner says it was the only bidder, but The Daily Caller quotes an HHS source as saying that CGI was one of four companies that bid on the deal.
In any event, after working on the project since 2011, CGI was awash with big problems as late was last summer before the Oct. 1 launch date. Subcontractors didn’t talk to each other. No one wanted blame for the growing evidence that the site couldn’t work. There were rumors that IBM, which supposedly had also bid for the CGI work, would take over, according to the New York Times.
Well, the marketplace didn’t work and an army of geeks is trying unscramble it. A really serious analysis would have to come from someone more expert on this blog, (perhaps from that NOVA IT badass, Don the Ripper).
Back to the point. Is the issue here really ObamaCare, a highly complex entity unto itself? Or are we talking about something rotten in our own beloved NOVA-land?
Not to forget Northrop Grumman. Back about a decade ago, during the craze to outsource most government services, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency handed over management of its data centers to Northrop Grumman in a 10-year, $2.4 billion contract. The deal was assigned in 2005 through the efforts of Democratic Gov. Mark Warner who had made hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s private IT sector and was a big fan of outsourcing public functions.
Under Northrop Grumman’s watch, state agencies saw massive outtages and delays which meant that Virginians could not renew their driver’s licenses for a while.
The ObamaCare site is supposed to be fixed about now. We shall see. Still, it is important to separate the issues of contracting and executing IT functions with private firms from the real intent of ObamaCare. Let’s not forget that it’s really a Republican (Mitt Romney) idea after all.