Two stories of government-tech-gone-wrong hit the wire this week. Each one in and of itself promised to be embarrassing to the US federal government, as well as to any contractors who contributed to the respective projects. But taken together, one might wonder if something more sinister is afoot.
First, we have the various bugs and gotchas with the healthcare.gov Web site, the centerpiece of this month’s Affordable Care Act rollout. Bugs galore. Error messages. Scalability issues. Downtime.
The Obama administration is doing their best to put a positive spin on the news. Too much traffic means that ObamaCare is more popular than even we expected! True, yes, but wouldn’t it have been nice if the site had actually worked properly nonetheless?
And then there’s the latest scandal out of the NSA: their new data center is prone to fires. Lots of them. And all you need to do to start one is, well, turn stuff on. Needless to say, fire and high tech equipment don’t mix very well.
Of course, as any techie will tell you, technical problems are quite routine in any hardware or software rollout. You can expect some bumps along the road regardless of how competent your people are. But the problem here is, both snafus resulted from rather elementary mistakes. Healthcare.gov wasn’t tested enough. The equipment in the NSA data center was packed together too tightly for its electricity consumption parameters. Any college kid with one class in the respective discipline could have avoided these problems.
However, while it might be amusing to theorize some vast anti-government conspiracy, chances are no such thing ever happened. Simple incompetence is a much more likely scenario. After all, conspiracies require coordination, sophistication, and careful planning. Simply mucking things up is far, far easier.