Contractors Blame Team Obama For Website Failures

I watched some of the hearing this morning, but had to turn it off after too much bloviating from elected officials. One thing that came out

(AP) The leading contractors on the Obama administration’s troubled health insurance website told Congress Thursday that the government failed to thoroughly test the complicated system before it went live.

Executives of CGI Federal, which built the federal website serving 36 states, and QSSI, which designed the part that helps verify applicants’ income and other personal details, testified under oath before the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The contractors said they each tested their own components independently but that the Health and Human Services department was responsible for testing the whole system from end to end. That kind of testing didn’t happen until the last couple of weeks before the system’s Oct. 1 launch.

What we were hearing is that no one was testing how the various portions would work together. Which, shockingly, was a big problem.

Let’s consider: there are supposedly 500 million lines of code for healthcare.never, er, .gov. To put that in perspective, it’s reported that the massively popular game Skyrim approaches 47 million lines of code. Skyrim is a massive game, with massive amounts of colors, clothes, weapons, characters, dialogue, choices, audio. You have trees, buildings, animals, grass, hills, mountains, weather. Moving water. Go take a look at some pictures or video of it. I’ll wait.

OK, you back? Great. All that mega-awesome is built on the Elder Scrolls series which goes back to 1994, with the release of the first game. And built on all the other games that the developers made. It’s a massive feat. And 46+ million lines of code.

Yet,, er, .gov, is 500 million lines. Consider what it takes to just run Pirate’s Cove, or most other blogs.

There are essentially 3 types of blogs: WordPress based, Moveable Type based, and Blogspot. For the first two, they can be self hosted on either a computer or through a company (I use Dreamhost), or via (for MT). Like I said, I’m through Dreamhost, and use WordPress. Have since about 2006 or 2007. In order to run this blog, here’s how it works

  • There’s the server, owned and run by DH. Every once in a while, I have to reset it. For big things, I contact tech support. Lines of code for that
  • There’s the SQL database, and all it’s functions and code
  • The WordPress installation
  • The theme itself
  • The plugins
  • The widgets
  • The graphics. Some of those graphics are located within the Pirate’s Cove WordPress (WP) install, some from Photobucket, some from my Gallery website, also hosted at DH
  • Then there are videos embedded, usually from Youtube
  • Links to other websites

This all has to work together. For the WP install itself, there are over 30 files, mostly PHP ones. Then 4 different folders that contain the themes, plugins, some graphics, and more.

Now, I’m no computer or coding guru. I have been using computers since you had to use a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk which ran off a mainframe. I’m still pretty good. Consider the theme you see.

One of the reasons I moved from Typepad to a WordPress blog was control, making it look like I wanted. I’ve had lots of themes. Back in the more freewheeling early times (mid 2000’s) people changed their themes all the time. I did. I find a theme I like and tear it apart, changing colors, the header, the footer. It probably took me about 10 hours to make the current theme look like I want it to. I’ve done this many times with previous ones. Many of the colors are very different from the original theme. Here’s what Violator looks like originally. I like a fluid width 3 column theme. I want the main column, where the posts are, to load before the sidebar. That way, if something is wrong in the sidebar, or goes belly up, the posts are still readable. I’ve widened the sidebars. Had to change graphics to match. See the skull at the beginning of each blockquote? Added.

On the sidebars, they are mostly controlled by widgets. There’s code for those. Some code is controlled by a plugin, allowing me to do special things. See the ones that say “click for blogroll”? That’s a special script that requires a special plugin for the widget. And code in the header. It has to be done exactly right, or it doesn’t work.

See the graphic at the top right? That’s uses a random rotating code that gives random pictures. Around Christmas I’ll use a similar set of photos with Christmas themes. If I do not spell the name of the picture names exactly correctly, they will not show.

I used to have a really awesome theme called Fall Season. But, see, it was a 2 column theme. I tore it up, turned it into a 3 column. Then, WordPress made a big change, and it no longer worked. Had to change themes. Changes to WP cause some things to Not Work. I’m always leery about big WP updates, which can Break Things. I used to have a really great mobile version plugin, updated some plugins, now it will not work.

There are plugins that the reader never sees. Things like Akismet and Bad Behavior, which deal with spam. Banhammer, which bans certain things, including certain words, IPs, and email addresses. See those emoticons? That’s a plugin called Mona Lisa. Whenever I update it I have to take a screenshot, because it will wipe out the added code for the emoticons I added. If I don’t re-add them correctly, past usage will change.

I’ve used plugins for video embed in the past. If you go way in the archive, some vids will no longer work, because those plugins are deactivated, what with tech moving forward. There was a plugin for “lighthouse”, where if you clicked on a picture it would become large. Deactivated (used a lot of server resources).

I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the point. And I’ve gotten this post out of my head. If one little mistake is made, things Might Not Work. It could be that you don’t see a graphic. It could be that Things Get Broken. Maybe the whole site doesn’t load. It could be as simple as dropping a < or > or / or “. A misspelling. It takes quite a bit to keep any website working correctly. There are lots of interconnected parts. The reason I like the main column to load first is because sidebars have scripts that are run by other sites. Like those ads and some others. If they’re down, could stop the rest from loading, at least till they time out.

In order to properly document how all this works would take hours and probably more than you want to read. And more than I want to write. But, everything has to work correctly.

When I’m developing a new theme, or looking to make a big change, I do it on my development site. An upgrade to WP? I do it there, first. Some changes you may not even notice. But it all has to work properly, including all the interconnections.

One might think I’m defending healthcare.blowdup, er, .gov. I’m not. They didn’t test, the interconnection is crap, and there are too many shoddy parts. If you’re reading this in Firefox, go to top of webpage, click on Tools, Web Developer, Page Source. Before hitting post, there are 2197 lines for the front page. Now go to 1639 lines. For that little bit. My front page has all the posts, links (there are lots of links withing the open/close scripts.) And that’s not even getting into all the interconnections to IRS, DHS, etc. It’s no wonder the website is a mess.

Finally, consider that in practice Obamacare insurance is going to have massive amounts of interconnections. They can’t get a website to work. Think the insurance and health care will work well? 500 million lines of code. Good luck.

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10 Responses to “Contractors Blame Team Obama For Website Failures”

  1. gitarcarver says:

    I watched an interview with John McAfee who founded the company which makes computer security software.

    According to him, the .gov site dumped ove 50 programs / processes onto the users systems, most of which communicated back to the .gov site.

    The result was an exponential increase in traffic that was built into the system and had nothing to do with the number of users on the system.

    The site effectively launched a DNS attack on itself.

    If this type of failure had happened in the private sector, heads would roll. But not with this administration.

    Soon the people who oversaw this disaster will probably get promoted.

  2. Unfortunately, you’re probably right about getting promoted. If Sebelius was a private sector CEO, she would have been canned already.

    And this is only the website. Just imagine what will happen with the actual insurance and care.

  3. Son_Of_Gumballs says:

    With no Fed agency able to secure our data, many stories out about loss of privacy, spying, etc, and now forced sharing of data with other agencies, does anyone really trust that your information is private? Secure?

    Dude?!? SKYRIM?!?! I knew I loved you for some reason!! Most bestest RPG EVAH!! OMG Can I get a “FUS-RO-DAH!!!!” ???

    What is not surprising is that this is all on purpose. You can’t screw up this bad on accident. I’ve worked on computer systems where things would fail one right after another for whatever reason,,, but this is much worse.

    “Administration intends to “slide” the deadline” now? by as much as 6 weeks? So, now another law Obama ignores – even after calling Repubs hostage-takers, terrorists, and worse for suggesting that the law be revised in the same way.

    It’s like that boss that you tell an amazing new idea to. He shoots you down and runs you out of the office. Yet, you learn later that he took your idea to his boss and sold it, and got credit for it.

    This is the great communicator??

    Also…. (I’m on a roll) … could the “fine\tax” be negligible? The fine\tax is not enforceable. A person can not be charged the fine if they do not have a refund, and can’t be held liable for it because supposedly this fine is restricted from being enforced thru litigation\punishment.

  4. Hate to burst your bubble, I’ve never played it. I actually gave up playing most big PC games about 4 years ago when my desktop died. Had a smoking processor, graphic card, and sound card. Lots of RAM. Motherboard up and died.

    I did play Morrowind and its add ons, though. Loved 1st person shooters.

  5. Son_Of_Gumballs says:

    Ok. I’m back to being just kind about you.

  6. Jeffery says:

    A point of accuracy, please:

    Glenn Beck’s website found that the glitchy did not cost $634 billion or $634 million but DID cost $94 million.

  7. gitarcarver says:


    The figure Beck reports is only for the CGI portion of the contract.

    The GAO report is saying the site costs $363 million and that was before pulling in other contractors to try and fix it.

    The real problem here is that we are ticked off at any system that costs that much and fails. You don’t seem to care about the failure or the m0ney.

    More hypocrisy from you.

  8. gitarcarver says:


    Re: number of lines of code

    Many years ago I took a course to be certified in C++. (My “C” certificate wouldn’t tranfer.)

    Anyway, the guy teaching the course was very cool and happened to be in charge of examinong the computer code after the shuttle Challenger disaster.

    He beat into our heads the importance of documentation which was not done at NASA on the computer programs. There were function calls that went nowhere or had nowhere to go. There were defined function that never did anything.

    But the scariest thing he said was that his team had uncovered 500 potential instances of coding that would have resulted in “catastrophic failure” of the shuttle.

    In other words, “boom.”

    The site was a failure, they knew it was a failure and it never should have rolled out. The fact that Obama did not know that it was not ready shows either a willful act of lack of management, or a case where it is more important to keep him insulated than it is for him to lead.

  9. Oof, documentation. I know that’s something I’m missing. If the whole site went down, I would be boned, because I’ve forgotten so much of what I’ve done. Special scripts to allow popup comments, those open/close scripts, so much more. However, I have a complete backup of the entire WP installation, including themes, saved on computer, external HD, and DVD.

    I’m looking through the viewable code for and some of it just seems needless.

    One thing a coder told me is that leaving spaces between lines of code is a double edged sword. On one hand, it allows one to see what different parts do. On the flip side, those empty lines add up and can slow things down just a tiny bit, but the more there are, the more the slowdown occurs.

    In the case of Obama, both cases are probably likely. He’s not a details guy, and doesn’t seem to like actually doing the job of POTUS. He likes schmoozing, campaigning, lecturing, blaming, golfing, vacationing, snarking. He doesn’t like getting into the nuts and bolts, and this was supposed to be his legacy. He outsourced all responsibility for it, and surely took little interest beyond a giant overview. Kinda like

    Obama: “how’s things going with the Obamacare website?”

    Subordinate: “It’s going”

    Obama: “great. Gotta give a speech”

  10. Son_Of_Gumballs says: passing off code as its own, but, it’s not. Violating Fair Use Policy.

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