October 25, 2013

Maine experts think website was doomed from start

Besides inadequate testing, the system for finding the best technology contractors is complicated and doesn’t work, they say.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The federal government should have given contractors more time to test the website for its health insurance marketplace instead of rushing to launch HealthCare.gov, two Maine-based technology experts said Thursday.

The two also agreed that the government’s bid requirements have become so complicated and burdensome that they keep smaller and more talented firms from bidding on contracts.

In the first few days after the launch Oct. 1, only a small fraction of Americans were able to create accounts or log onto the website. Since then, the system has continued to be plagued by problems.

Stephen O’Grady of Freeport, a co-founder of RedMonk, a technology industry analysis firm that has been based in Portland since 2002, said he sees two challenges for HealthCare.gov.

“First, the nature of the application itself is extremely complicated, and made more so by the maze of compliance requirements involved,” he said in an email Thursday night from California, where was on a business trip.

“Second,” he said, “the governmental procurement process, which has become so specialized that most contractors are forced to work through third parties that specialize in (interpreting) governmental procurement, ensures a smaller and less talented pool of engineers bidding on the project.”

He said, “When you don’t employ the best software engineers, which the government does not for salary reasons, and you restrict your pool of available talent with a draconian procurement process, expectations must be lowered.”

O’Grady said the website should have been tested more before it was launched.

“But ultimately, that’s addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. The fact is that the system that built the site is inherently flawed,” he said.

Samuel Mateosian of Portland, a co-founder of Big Room Studios in Portland, which designs and builds web applications, was at the annual PopTech conference in Camden on Thursday night. He said the failure of the health care website was a hot topic of conversation.

A smaller company like his wouldn’t consider bidding for a federal government contract because the “process is pretty burdensome” and there is pressure to meet deadlines that tend to be rigid, he said. “The whole (request for proposal) process is fundamentally bad,” Mateosian said. “It’s the thing that is keeping smaller shops out of government jobs.”

He said the government should have done more thorough testing of the website before it was launched. Contractors told federal lawmakers Thursday that HealthCare.gov wasn’t tested until late September, with an Oct. 1 launch date.

“It’s surprising to me they didn’t stress-test the site at volume,” Mateosian said. “There are tools (a simulation) that let you stress-test a site. You can pound your site until it breaks.”

Mateosian, who is self-employed, said he has health insurance, but he tried to access the federal website during its first week of operation to see if he could find a better deal. The site kicked him out.

“It was definitely broken,” he said. “I think the odds are good they will get the problems sorted out. Will it be a great product? Probably not.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)