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Much to learn from HealthCare.gov glitches, expert says

Oct. 30, 2013 - 10:52AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Problems with the launch of the federal health care exchange website could have avoided by more closely consulting with industry, said Jim Williams, former chairman of the Industry Advisory Council. (Rob Curtis/Staff)
Problems with the launch of the federal health care exchange website could have avoided by more closely consulting with industry, said Jim Williams, former chairman of the Industry Advisory Council. (Rob Curtis/Staff) (Rob Curtis/Staff / Army Times Publishing Co.)

The botched roll-out of the federal health care exchanges and HealthCare.gov could have been avoided if the Health and Human Services Department reached out to industry for advice and best practices, according to a former federal acquisition official.

Jim Williams, former acting administrator at the General Services Administration, said the healthcare project lacked clear roles and responsibilities and required extensive integration with existing government systems, which can be challenging even without the hard deadline the project faced. Williams spoke to the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va., Monday.

HealthCare.gov opened Oct. 1 and was plagued from the start by numerous technical problems. The administration has promised to fix the problems by Nov. 15. Critics of healthcare reform argue the problems justify a delay in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

God created the earth in six days but he did not have to deal with legacy systems, said Williams, who is now chairman of the Industry Advisory Council, which advises federal agencies on IT management issues.

Williams said the industry standard is that project testing take up about one-quarter of total development time. Contractors working on the project have said there was no extensive testing. Williams said the administration should have adjusted its project schedule as it addressed potential problems.

He said HHS should have spent more time in the design and concept stages of the project and less time on selecting the contractors in order to provide clearer project guidelines and avoid last-minute changes.

Agencies should reach out to industry before beginning large projects in order to get fresh perspectives and identify innovative ways of accomplishing their objective, Williams said.

As the government moves forward on other IT projects such as veterans health care and immigration it must learn from HealthCare.gov and use those lessons to build better IT systems.

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