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Old story

Recently in the news:  "As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the website, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans." 

They have got to be kidding. There are untold numbers of sites long in existence that use the Sandbox of Security constantly for millions of users without fail. It's not like there aren't online living examples to choose from. And if you like, you can simply allow some window shopping (no pun intended) before being required to log in. Come on!

A favorite quote:  "We're here to help you. We're from the government."

In the news: "Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring (2013) according to people familiar with the process."

The government was slow. NO, s-s-s-s-s-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-w-w-w is more like it. This story is so old that it reminds me of old hams hanging in the cellar "like the Davenport Hotel cure," which for old timers in Seattle, meant it was green with mold. And my own experiences in dealing with government, bureau-slow tell me an awful lot.

The smoker cough, swearing, ill-tempered gentleman that I came to know at the Housing and Urban Development Administration was introduced to me as the guru, foremost, nation-wide authority, the source for information regarding HUD online, application fill-out forms, digital, via the web. This was the brand new venue for individuals and organizations seeking HUD loans. 

My neighbor was seeking a refinance loan on the senior housing assisted-living facility that he'd built some years earlier. He wanted a lower rate assumable loan that he could pass on to a potential buyer if he chose to sell his investment. He was informed that he could file for the loan online via HUD's new website and fill out forms. My neighbor does no computing via the age of Internet, so I was asked to help. What took place was illuminating for me. 

It was arranged for me to talk to "The Man" in Washington D.C. at his convenience, and I was told that it was all but impossible to get a phone call through to this authority, that he was just simply too busy, too sought after. So I was prompt, on the clock, as directed, and we discussed the process necessary to get online, to create a log-in. I was long experienced, at that time, with writing code to create security wrapped website log-ons. The process was cut and dried, so I proceeded with The Man and we got started with no hint of experience on my part. 

His mentoring was abrupt and not easily followed, although I knew where he was going, or trying to go, with his explanations. We got logged in. We hurriedly passed through many screens at the website and then with an abrupt farewell, I was launched on my own to seek the profits of trying to get through the fill-out-forms jungle. 

My neighbor came over and we proceeded with forms, filling in pertinent info. We had to re-log on at certain points in order to move along in the process, and suddenly I realized that I was logged on with the ability to access the private information of ALL applicants, which of course is an egregious security no-no.

We had advanced as far as we could go at that point and according to our reading, we would have to wait for the forms to process before final information could be added to the loan. I decided that I was not going to mention anything about their security breech problems since I was not bragging and was thus far underwhelmed with their obvious lack of ability. Or maybe it was the government mire that confused things. Perhaps it was the fact that they had written the code for the site in three different languages. Or maybe it was just GAU, government as usual.

I was beginning to become less than willingly illuminated in Governmental Speak.

But after all that, my neighbor was informed that the local HUD office was not yet set up to process the rest of the application using the website completed forms information and that he would have to start all over again using the traditional paper and pencil.

Tah-dah! We'd come so close to being modern.

Now I read about the government/et al/who-knows hash of the site to help health insurance shoppers, and I'm utterly, again, underwhelmed. Yup. Go figure. Sounds like business as usual. It will get fixed. But what was amazing about my experiences with HUD back then was that I started receiving phone calls from some of the nation's largest mortgage lenders wanting to know how we had advanced as far as we did using the online process. I was told that my neighbor and I had managed to get through the site further than any in the country, thus far. I was illuminated. They didn't realize that it was just Jim and I sitting at home in front of my desktop computer.

Will health care's website get all fixed? Of course it will. But oh, the memories and how things in government just don't seem to change, especially, sometimes, dealing with newer technologies. Business in general had a tough time transitioning to the web, but our government? OH, MY!

Note that HUD spent many 10s of millions on the site that didn't yet work and I assume by now has been fixed –that was about 10 years ago.

Too many contractors made an obvious dysfunction, creating the inability to get the health care website working properly. Nor did the website system roll out in stages over a longer time test period or on a smaller scale, as companies like Google typically do, so that problems can more easily and quietly be fixed. Former government officials say the White House, which was calling the shots, feared that any problems back-tracking would further embolden Republican critics who were trying to repeal the health care law. 

Tah-dah! (Don’t you just want to scream?)

Of course, if a person cut into that Davenport Cure through the green moldy rind excellent ham was to be had. But sometimes, someone has to assume that politicians don't even own a knife. They obviously can't cut a deal.


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