If no one's to blame for Healthcare.gov glitches, then maybe everyone is

After listening to over three hours of testimony in Congress from some of the contractors behind the Obamacare Healthcare.gov site, one thing has become abundantly clear: No vendor is responsible for the problems that have plagued the health exchange since its launch nearly a month ago.

That's right. The glitches apparently just miraculously manifested themselves the minute the site went live on Oct. 1.

Not CGI Federal that has received more than $113 million so far as the prime contractor for the project. Not Quality Software Services Inc. (QSSI), which has an $85 million contract for building the Obamacare Data Hub. And not Serco, which will get $200 million this year alone for processing paper applications received via online exchanges.

Only four of the several vendors involved in building the exchange testified before lawmakers today. But given the general tenor of the testimony so far, it's likely that none of the others are responsible either.

Nope. The problems are all someone else's fault.

At a tense Capitol Hill hearing that was webcast Thursday, representatives from CGI and QSSI insisted that their systems had performed just fine prior to the launch.

In the face of skeptical questioning from both sides of the aisle, the executives stoutly maintained their companies had completed all contracted tasks to specification, on schedule, and apparently in a totally glitch-free manner. All required processes were followed. All required tests were conducted. Prior to the launch, there was apparently nothing to indicate a problem.

Serco's representative noted that the company's contract has nothing to do with building or maintaining the Hub and, therefore, could not be held accountable for any problems.

So what then went wrong? None of the executives could really offer an answer -- except to blame the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which owns the system, for not conducting "end-to-end" testing in a more thorough manner.

Under pressure from lawmakers, Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president for CGI, conceded the project would have benefited from a lot more testing -- particularly of the "end-to-end" variety. But CGI did not inform CMS about the need for additional testing, apparently because it was not the company's responsibility or place to do so.

When a lawmaker pointed out the company was contractually obligated to ensure end-to-end testing, Campbell maintained the clause applied only to the Federally Facilitated Marketplace component that CGI was responsible for.

Andrew Slavitt, group executive vice president at Optum/QSSI, admitted to some scalability problems with a registration and access management tool it built as part of its contract. But again, any problems arose only because of the higher-than-anticipated use of the system soon after launch.

Prior to launch, everything checked out fine in performance tests in August and September and in an independent security risk assessment by Mitre Corp. in August. As part of its work with the Obamacare health exchanges, OSSI is also required to test the functionality of the federal marketplace and the software developed by other contractors.

As with everything else, this task, too, was completed in compliance with all requirements and any errors or problems that it found were promptly reported to CMS, according to Slavitt. How CMS acted on the information remains unclear.

So there you have it. All systems worked perfectly, tested out adequately and functioned just as planned -- right up to the minute the whole thing went live. The fact that it hasn't worked well since then is apparently all the CMS's fault.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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