Obamacare Is No Starship Enterprise


Megan McArdle:

Back when I used to do technology consulting for banks and other financial firms, I found myself in the middle of a project with many of the characteristics that made the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act so difficult: hard deadlines fixed by lease expirations and some regulatory requirements, mission creep, and project requirements set by distant, hard-to-reach figures. For a month or so, I slept two to three hours a night, if at all, which has cognitive effects that I will save for a post on an even slower news day than this.

As you can imagine, not everything went smoothly on launch day. Amid the chaos, I got a call from the secretary of a very senior executive at the firm. His new voice-recognition software wasn’t working, and he needed me to come up right away.

I had servers that weren’t working right and a bunch of workstations that couldn’t access the network. “He should call the help desk,” I told her.

Her tone was arctic.

“He doesn’t deal with help desk personnel,” she said. “Please come up here right away.”

So I went to the office of Mr. Senior Executive. He was not at his desk. I played with his new software, which seemed to be working fine — a bit slow, but in 1998, voice-recognition software took a while to become acclimated to your voice. I told the secretary it seemed to be working, and I left my pager number. It went off as I got to the elevator bank. I trekked wearily back to the office, where Mr. Senior Executive gestured at his computer. “It still doesn’t work right,” he said, and started to leave the office again.

“Hold on, please,” I said. “Can you show me exactly what’s not working?”

“It’s not doing what I want,” he said.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“I want it to be,” he replied, “like the computer on `Star Trek: The Next Generation.’”

“Sir, that’s an actor,” I replied evenly, despite being on the sleepless verge of hysteria. With even more heroic self-restraint, I did not add “We can get you an actor to sit under your desk. But we’d have to pay SAG rates.”

Now, when I used to tell this story to tech people, the moral was that executives are idiots. No, make that “users are idiots.” Tech people tend to regard their end-users as a sort of intermediate form of life between chimps and information-technology staffers: They’ve stopped throwing around their feces, but they can’t really be said to know how to use tools.

And, of course, users can do some idiotic things. But this particular executive was not an idiot. He was, in fact, a very smart man who had led financial institutions on two continents. None of the IT staffers laughing at his elementary mistake would have lasted for a week in his job.

Call it “the illusion of omnicompetence.” When you know a lot about one thing, you spend a lot of time watching the less knowledgeable make elementary errors. You can easily infer from this that you are very smart, and they are very stupid. Presumably, our bank executive knew that the phasers and replicators on “Star Trek” are fake; why did he think that the talking computer would be any more real?

But why should he have known that voice-recognition software, circa 1998, was sort of slow and ponderous? He was getting paid to think about financial issues, not the limits of computer learning. To be sure, he probably should have asked more questions before he bought that software. But as any journalist will tell you, the greatest danger of going into a new domain is the questions that you don’t know enough to ask.

I thought about “Star Trek: TNG” Man when I saw this weekend’s New York Times piece on what was going on behind the scenes during the final months of HealthCare.gov’s troubled development:

Eventually, Medicare agency officials began to suspect that staff members at CGI were intentionally trying to hide flaws in the system, to cover up for their inability to meet production deadlines. They ordered CGI technicians to drive from their offices near Dulles International Airport in Virginia to the agency headquarters near Baltimore to review their code with government supervisors…

Mr. Chao seemed to colleagues to be at his wit’s end. One evening last summer, he called Wallace Fung, who retired in 2008 as the Medicare agency’s chief technology officer. Mr. Fung said in an interview that he told Mr. Chao to greatly simplify the site’s functions. “Henry, this is not going to work. You cannot build this kind of system overnight,” Mr. Fung said he told him.

“I know,” Mr. Chao answered, according to Mr. Fung. “But I cannot talk them out of it.”

In the last week of September, the disastrous results of the project’s inept management and execution were becoming fully apparent. The agency pressed CGI to explain why a performance test showed that the site could not handle more than 500 simultaneous users. The response once again exhibited the blame-shifting that had plagued the project for months.

“We have not identified any inefficient and defective code,” a CGI executive responded in an email to federal project managers, pointing again to database technology that the Medicare agency had ordered it to use as the culprit, at least in part.

The technocratic idea is that you put a bunch of smart, competent people in government — folks who really want the thing to work — and they’ll make it happen. But “smart, competent people” are not a generic quantity; they’re incredibly domain-specific. Most academics couldn’t run a lemonade stand. Most successful entrepreneurs wouldn’t be able to muster the monomaniacal devotion needed to get a Ph.D. Neither group produces many folks who can consistently generate readable, engaging writing on a deadline. And none of us would be able to win a campaign for Congress.

Yet in my experience, the majority of people in these domains think that they could do everyone else’s job better, if they weren’t so busy with whatever it is they’re doing so well. It’s the illusion of omnicompetence, and in the case of HealthCare.gov, it seems to have been nearly fatal.

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Very interesting post.
I have high hopes that the left has not completely killed common sense in the US, and that the incredible flaws inherent to this socialist power grab will finally awaken the sleeping giant and we will rid ourselves of the evil of progressivism – or at least roll things back enough to improve our economy and regain the national stature that the Obama regime has destroyed with their insane America-weakening, groveling to islamists and totalitarian regimes behaviors.

Obamacare was known before it was passed to cause employers to dump employees onto the bureaucratically run failures of the exchanges. Even CBS and NBC have reported that the government estimated 80 million Americans will be thrown onto the exchanges because the employer provided plans do not contain the Marxist/redistributionist “minimum coverage” mandates of obamacare.

Obama and his minions have lied repeatedly about their intentions. Part of the reason the healthcare.gov website is so giant a failure is because the government was deliberately trying to hide the sticker shock of the greatly increased costs of obamacare – which appears to have been a much higher priority for the government overlords than actually providing healthcare insurance.

Anyone who uses the failure of obamacare – written solely by leftists and passed/crammed down our throats solely with leftist votes – to push for national socialist government takeover of all medical care needs to be removed from political office and never ever given the opportunity to have any political authority ever again.

Listening to a leftist demand socialist “single payer” healthcare as the only solution for obamacare failure is like listening to 18th century phlebotomy enthusiasts insist that the patient they have already bleed for three days will only get better if they triple the amount of leeches and quadruple the amount of time for each bleeding session.

Obamacare delenda est.

Obamacare Is No Starship Enterprise

The Starship Enterprise had a commander who was dedicated to his ship and crew, and a crew who were dedicated to the commander and the ship.

I heard a funny-because-it’s-probably-true joke about why ObamaCare’s website didn’t work…..

Everybody knows what’s going on all over the WH and Executive Branch.
Seems everybody in the White House and Executive Branch sleeps with somebody else from those places…..but nobody was sleeping with the techies.
That’s why nobody knew the ObamaCare website was gong to fail.

OK, but what we have here really is a failure to communicate.
My computer gets glitchy and (back in CA) a nephew could come over, listen to my complaints, basically ignore me, then do a couple things on the computer, say what was really wrong, do a few more things on the computer and fix it and it really was fixed.
He couldn’t bother too long listening to me because I had no idea what the real problem was.

The way Obama’s policy people were making unrealistic demands from the techies reminds me of how my nephew just stopped listening to me at an early point in our conversations.
What is sad is that techies near the WH and working on this system felt freer to talk among themselves than they did to explain why the demands for the web site could not work to the policy wonks.
Maybe the fact that my nephew had Down’s Syndrome has something to do with his uninhibited way of just cutting me off, and figuring it out and giving me a cursory explanation.
Of course all I ever wanted was for the thing to actually work.
Those constant new versions of things like iTunes, Adobe, Firefox and so on, I just kept telling their popups to wait until later.
That sort of thing catches up to you eventually.

I think Obamacare *IS* the Starship Enterprise….. but the one from that Evil parallel universe where Spock had a beard. 😉 Or maybe it’s the space shuttle Enterprise…. no engines and never flown into space, and incapable of being fixed.

Back when I was a sort of unix admin, we had a piece of software that was going to break when the users upgraded their pc’s past win98. The general consensus among the big shots was that it would take a gazillion man-hours to upgrade it or provide a web interface. Between myself and two other admins, we managed to cobble up a limited working demo in two days, during our spare time. They were not happy with us. 😉

Nanny G
best congratulation for the new : NY”
@ Jim S,
it will never be as bad as my troubles WITH A COMPUTER
which was freaking me up, right from the begining,
leaving me in a no man”s land to try to get out alive and to have a note asking me if i was lost,
then when i thought i knew how to work with it he died on me, like an old creep he was,
totaly unknown to me, which gave me dreams of terrors, and i just begin to have a feel of it,
but the cretin switch me of and on to caps and no caps, which i let it go as it wish, he KNOW he own me
and I can’t fonction anymore without him,

Megan McArdle
thank you it is half serious and half humor,
I loved it because I’m one of the ignorant, and Ifeel their pain,
where one is trying to keep that pride while struggle with my computer,
which have an evil pleasure to humiliate a new commer, by showing how ignorant i am,
everytime I try to learn some other apps, BY DUMPING ME THERE WITHOUT ME KNOWING


The Starship Enterprise had a commander who was dedicated to his ship and crew, and a crew who were dedicated to the commander and the ship.

Not to mention the protection of innocent civilians and future generations.

Obama care is the poorly maintained lemon of an alien ship from the episode where a rather implausibly and (frankly mentally challenged sounding,) group of aliens kidnap Jordy and force him to fix everything that is wrong on their ship and “make it go.”

@Nanny G: #3
Fox News reported that some people are saying that the reason the web site isn’t working is that the company who created it made it purposefully not to work so that they can make more money repairing it. Fox News didn’t say that this was a fact, just that this is what some are saying.

Earlier, they reported that the reason for a delay was that the web site was ready to go, until the obama administration found out that the individuals could go on the site and get the information without giving their personal info, and the administration didn’t like that. They wanted the info even if the people didn’t sign up, so the web site had to be changed. Unfortunately, I find this very easy to believe.

It may be possible to eventually get the site operational, but not anytime soon.

@Jim S: #4
You reminded me that one advantage I found to having an Apple computer is that even though, at that time, I was running their operating system called OS 9, I could still run any program that was made for OS 6 on up. I didn’t have to pay for upgrades for third party software like I had to when I upgraded to Windows 95. Maybe the obama administration should have hired some Apple techs to make the web site. It would surprise us how many games that are made for PCs were created on Macs, since they use the same chip.

@Ditto: #7
obamacare is like the Death Star. If it isn’t blown up, it will start blowing things up.

@Redteam: #9

It may be possible to eventually get the site operational….

I couldn’t help noticing that you used a medical term when referring to a medical site: (OPERATIONAL) Will the patient survive the OPERATION? How long will it be in intensive care after it?