Federal List

5 lessons learned from HealthCare.gov

HealthCare.gov Screenshot, September 2014

The Office of Management and Budget is expanding its oversight of federal IT through the creation of the U.S. Digital Service, led by ex-Google manager and now U.S. Deputy CIO Mikey Dickerson.

Many of the lessons in the Digital Service's new Playbook are drawn directly from the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov:

1. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acted as integrator for the development of the technology that supported the Affordable Care Act. After the website's failure at launch, former Acting OMB Director Jeff Zients was named to lead the "tech surge" to fix the site and staked his reputation on the effort.

More Federal List stories

This article is part of FCW's special "Federal List" issue. The magazine's digital edition is now available, and additional stories will be published on FCW.com in the coming days.

2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish. HealthCare.gov is a sprawling system with several components that were not properly fitted together and tested before launch. As a result, systems that performed flawlessly when tested in isolation failed miserably once connected and subjected to real-world users.

3. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery. The definitive inspector general report on contracting and HealthCare.gov has yet to be written, but it's clear that CMS has changed its approach to compensation to incorporate performance requirements. At a congressional hearing in July, CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt told lawmakers that current contractor Accenture "has skin in the game to make sure they deliver."

4. Use agile, iterative practices. There was no beta launch of HealthCare.gov. It opened wide, and it crashed big. The Playbook advises adopting the agile method of breaking big IT projects into discrete deliverables that can be tested and deployed on a small scale.

5. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment. Although HealthCare.gov launched in a commercial hosting environment, capacity was overtaxed due to heavy use and software problems. Among the early fixes was installing dedicated hardware -- something the Playbook seeks to avoid.

About the Author

Connect with the FCW staff on Twitter @FCWnow.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.