WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

CGI catching heat for health exchange glitches

Fairly or unfairly, CGI Federal is getting pinged in the many reports about the problems with the launch of the health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1.

There have been well-publicized problems with the long wait times and other glitches involving the exchanges that are at the heart of the Affordable Care Act.

CGI is in the spotlight because it won the contract in 2011 to build the exchanges for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The contract was for five years and was worth $93.7 million.

Quality Software Services, formerly a small business but now owned by UnitedHealth, won a $55 million contract to for a data hub to exchange information with government to verify an applicant’s income and citizenship, according to the New York Times.

The Washington Post used the problems with the exchanges as an example of what’s wrong with federal IT policies.

It is an interesting read and highlights the need for more flexibility in the procurement system, which the Post story argues stifles innovation but rewards companies that become experts at navigating the procurement system.

I think the health exchanges suffered as much from a high-profile launch that forced the system to go from 0 to 60 with the flick of a switch as it did from problems with the procurement system.

It is important to remember how complicated the exchanges are, and how many other systems it must interact with, including Social Security, Homeland Security, IRS and, of course, private insurance companies.

Couple the complexity with what the government says is higher-than-expected volume, and you are bound to have problems.

CGI has been quiet, declining to comment so far. I’m sure it is hard to mount a defense against the criticism that doesn’t sound clichéd or self-serving.

CGI, QSS and other contractors also have had their heads down, working to add servers and processing power to the exchanges as well fixing software glitches, according to published reports.

Once the air clears, it’ll be interesting to see what the lessons learned from a technology, planning and management perspective are.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Oct 10, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Reader Comments

Tue, Oct 15, 2013

Nick, Based on my insight into the Obama Care Contract and contractor support for the information technology integration and implementation failure it is important to know that the government mandated that it would serve at the "Lead Systems Integrator" (LSI) for this very complicated technical effort. As a government contractor, I can assure you that the government is not capable of being a LSI for such a complicated technical integration effort as required by Obama Care. Based on the significant system-wide failures as experienced over the past two weeks (two plus years), the government has prohibited all Obama Care Contractors from discussing anything to do with the technical failures and has further mandated that all queries be directed to the government for resolution. Unfortunately, since the government did not have the technical ability to be the LSI, they also do not have the technical capability to fix the problem, let alone answer questions related to implementation failures. Good Luck on getting to the truth from the government in this matter.

Sat, Oct 12, 2013 Observer

Yes, it will be i"interesting" to see what the "lessons learned" are. However, readers of this publication should know that a botched system integration and implementation, complete w odorously bad coding, is hardly rare in the Federal arena. Indeed, it is actually the apparent standard, judging by the track records of major companies. Yes, this was CPFF and it would be possible to sidestep accountability. But, what of the reputations of the firms involved. What is the best way to rate this caper as an example of "past performance." Let's not take a horrendous botch job (yes, with the govt heavily involved) and think of it just as a teachable moment. Let's discipline the government and contractors involved to the fullest extent allowed in regulations, statute, etc. The FBI should be involved in any case.

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