February 27, 2014, 12:00 PM
By Russ Britt
The Obama administration considered scrapping the HealthCare.gov Web site at the height of the crisis in which the troubled portal was stuck in neutral after its Oct. 1 launch, according to a story released Thursday.
A piece by Steven Brill on Time magazine’s website says that President Barack Obama and his aides were having trouble getting clear signals from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials on what was crippling the site in mid-October, before the administration assembled a team of technology experts from outside government to help rescue the program.
ShutterstockTitled “Code Red,” in the article Brill interviews a number of administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Brill quotes Obama’s right-hand man as saying that his job was this: ”Can it be patched and improved to work, or does it need to be scrapped to start over? [Obama] wanted to know if this thing is salvageable.”
That’s when Jeffrey Zients, who Obama had picked to lead the National Economic Council, teamed up with White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park — who had largely been left out of the loop when HealthCare.gov was created — to find a team that could fix the site.
White House officials had no immediate comment on the report.
Brill had access to a number of administration officials and engineers and, for the most part, concludes what many had speculated was the cause of the Web site’s troubles: lack of central control and an overabundance of data to be processed.
He confirms there was no leader to which the many contractors hired to build the site reported, and thus no accountability. Contractors were eager to help; they just didn’t know who to help.
The second, Brill writes, is that engineers discovered the site didn’t use basic caching, in which frequently accessed information is held above the database so that it doesn’t clog information pipelines. Once that was repaired, the response time on the site was cut by three-fourths.
Once the site was fixed around Thanksgiving time, it was able to handle heavy volume, including peak traffic just before a Christmas enrollment deadline for those who wanted coverage by Jan. 1.
Brill notes, however, that Obama never met with HealthCare.gov’s rescuers personally to thank them. The personnel used to fix the site appeared unoffended, but Brill comments, “a quick visit from Obama (who spent Thanksgiving 2013 at the White House) to the troops who worked around the clock to save his signature domestic-policy initiative would have seemed fitting.”