CNN: Blowing up HealthCare.Gov and starting over still looking like their best option, say more tech experts

posted at 2:41 pm on October 23, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

There’s a growing consensus on the mid- to late-November time frame by which the Obama administration really, really needs to have ObamaCare’s online portal running smoothly to avoid inducing more death-spiral risks and subsequent industry panic, and all of their plans for public outreach and directing people to call centers and whatnot is only going to get them so far.

“Tech surge” or no tech surge, CNN reports that still more experts and computer engineers are piling on to the suggestion that fixing HealthCare.Gov’s major problems before the end of 2013 just isn’t a feasible task, and that rebuilding the system from scratch would be the administration’s easiest and safest bet:

After assessing the website, Dave Kennedy, the CEO of information-security company Trusted Sec, estimates that about 20% of Healthcare.gov needs to be rewritten. With a whopping 500 million lines of code, according to a recent New York Times report, Kennedy believes fixing the site would probably take six months to a year.

… Nish Bhalla, CEO of information-security firm Security Compass, said it “does not sound realistic at all” that Healthcare.gov will be fully operational before that point.

“We don’t even know where all of the problems lie, so how can we solve them?” Bhalla said. “It’s like a drive-by shooting: You’re going fast and you might hit it, you might miss it. But you can’t fix what you can’t identify.” …

“Projects that are done rapidly usually have a lot of [repetitive] code,” said Arron Kallenberg, a software engineer and tech entrepreneur. “So when you have a problem, instead of debugging something in a single location, you’re tracking it down all through the code base.”

A whopping 500 million lines of code is “so excessive,” says Kennedy, and that a more normal number for a project like the ObamaCare site would lie somewhere in the range of 25 million to 50 million. Dayum.

Admitting that they screwed up and throwing out more than $300 million taxpayer dollars’ worth of work would be one heck of a politically bitter pill to swallow, but this looks like it’s quickly turning into a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t sort of scenario. Who could’ve seen that coming?


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Admitting that they screwed up and throwing out more than $300 million taxpayer dollars’ worth of work would be one heck of a politically bitter pill to swallow, but this looks like it’s quickly turning into a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t sort of scenario. Who could’ve seen that coming?

I’m raising my hand! ;0

Would throwing it out mean a six-year delay as Sebelius claimed last night?

The Dems find them in an interesting spot. Do they want to go into the 2014 election with the crappy website and non-functional program called Obamacare. Or do they want to go into the 2014 election with this massive debacle on their voting record.

Happy Nomad on October 23, 2013 at 4:16 PM

These are the best comments I have seen to date regarding the Obamacare system implementation.

The only thing I would add: You sit all your stakeholders down and map out the work processes BEFORE you begin to THINK about data structures.

PolAgnostic on October 23, 2013 at 3:55 PM

If this is true, this to me is as bad or worse than the COBOL rumors. I start with requirements, and then do data structures before I write a single line of code (YMMV on that one, since I build the databases and then mold the models and corresponding controllers around that, whereas some people using Code First and building the models to form their database tables; it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other, and the underlying philosophy is the same: structure first).

The Schaef on October 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM

It’s like sending 100 people VILLAGE IDIOTS out to a junk yard, each to find one part (unspecified as to what part they are to get) – and then put all of those parts together to make a functional vehicle.
Good luck with that.

dentarthurdent on October 23, 2013 at 4:13 PM

.
Completely agree – just wanted to fix your grammar

;->

PolAgnostic on October 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM

The Dems find them in an interesting spot. Do they want to go into the 2014 election with the crappy website and non-functional program called Obamacare. Or do they want to go into the 2014 election with this massive debacle on their voting record.

Happy Nomad on October 23, 2013 at 4:16 PM

The odds of another government shutdown when the current CR expires mid January are increasing exponentially. That is going to be one of the best ways the Democrats have to change the trajectory from that of the Obamacare / Healthcare.gov debacle to the ‘evil GOP’ who are, yet again, crippling the government and all that it tries to do for the people.

Athos on October 23, 2013 at 4:22 PM

I talked to my friendly IT guy this morning. When I mentioned that reports are that the base code for the system is COBOL 2002, he went off sort of like a Trident from an Ohio-class boomer.

According to him, COBOL is an obsolete programming language that is next to impossible to interface with any other; most systems today use C-Plus, which is among other things the base code language of Windows. BASIC and BASIC II are other common languages that are older and a bit clunkier, but at least they work with C-Plus; and no, they won’t work with COBOL in any of its iterations.

If the Gubmint wrote the Obamacare code in COBOL, it’s not surprising that they could have 500 million lines of code. COBOL frequently uses very long variable names, where just adding two numbers could require two lines of code. It’s also very easy to make typos on long variable names, which end up with “undefined” variables defaulted to blank or zero.

Coding is much more efficient where large programs are broken into sub-programs which can “call” (pass variables to and from) each other. In each sub-program, the number of variable names needed might be small enough so that two- or three-character variable names are sufficient to tell them apart. These variable names need to be defined in “comments” (non-executed lines) at the start of each sub-program, and the code is self-documented so that other people can figure out what the code is supposed to do, and fix bugs more easily.

Steve Z on October 23, 2013 at 4:23 PM

It’s like sending 100 people out to a junk yard, each to find one part (unspecified as to what part they are to get) – and then put all of those parts together to make a functional vehicle.
Good luck with that.

dentarthurdent on October 23, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Even better is that one went to a marine salvage yard, another to an antique store, one went to a hot rod shop and the rest lost directions and went to a scrap metal dealer.

The ultimate goal is to build a Boeing 747, but the specs look like you want Mack truck.

Luckily the RFC process will fix all that later.

ajacksonian on October 23, 2013 at 4:37 PM

With a whopping 500 million lines of code, according to a recent New York Times report, Kennedy believes fixing the site would probably take six months to a year.

Sorry, but gotta call bullsh*t on that one. Just yesterday, it was 5 million. Where’d the extra two zeros suddenly come from?

Just as a reference point, Mac OS X purportedly has over 60 million lines of code. I’ve seen other numbers, and it could easily be over 100 million.

But think about that for a minute. OS X is one of the most sophisticated operating systems around, and has been under development for well over a decade. And you’re telling me that healthcare.gov (plus all of its middleware and back-end code to talk to all of the various data sources) has somewhere around 5 times as much code?

And was written inside of 3 years?

Really????

Someone’s on crack.

nukemhill on October 23, 2013 at 4:44 PM

Completely agree – just wanted to fix your grammar
;->

PolAgnostic on October 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM

Yes – I like your version better.

ajacksonian on October 23, 2013 at 4:37 PM

Although this is a really good twist on it as well.

dentarthurdent on October 23, 2013 at 4:50 PM

nukemhill on October 23, 2013 at 4:44 PM

Well, we know the left isn’t very good with numbers.
Remember Nanzi P’s comment about 500 million people losing their jobs every month?
Hell – these aren’t even real numbers to the lefties.
It doesn’t really count until you get into the trillions.

dentarthurdent on October 23, 2013 at 4:52 PM

The best description I’ve seen remains that of Barry O & Co. doing the Thelma & Louise off the cliff edge, saying “I’ll be damned if I give the wingnuts a victory! FORWARD!!”

Barry O’s stubborn arrogance and foolish pride will not allow him to concede an inch on BarryCare now any more than they would with the recent “government shutdown.”

FORWARD!!

Spurius Ligustinus on October 23, 2013 at 5:14 PM

Wow, who could have seen this coming?

Chris of Rights on October 23, 2013 at 5:20 PM

Putting perfume on a pile of dookey will not work except on the most feeble minded.

kemojr on October 23, 2013 at 5:27 PM

There is no possible way to make ten thousand pages of rules work.

They have had four years and over 600 million dollars. Did Amazon cost that? or Facebook?

Come on folks. This is over and the dems are just getting a clue…

dogsoldier on October 23, 2013 at 6:40 PM

couldn’t happen to bigger group of jerks.

Karmashock on October 23, 2013 at 8:23 PM

Steve Z on October 23, 2013 at 4:02 PM

You are correct. Which is why something is out of whack in the story

In big jobs everyone is assigned modules. Someone in charge should know the name of every external module you call or link to, every module that calls yours, and every I/O from your segment at all times. That’s BIG jobs. Where if someone quits you are scrxwed

No matter how big, everything is open/process/close, and every project includes page 1, which sets up the starting links to other processes.

Gov regulations are written by idiots/crooks. You are not allowed to question contradiction. You get it in writing and do what they say. If no one coordinates changes, you fail

IMHO Obamacare program made sure you got a low estimate of premiums for political reason. How do they get that done? Let me remember (have a meeting, smarmy slimehead tells you just base it on age 20, he will get back with you on an age test. Have to get it right, right? ) Dont ask. Just code

entagor on October 23, 2013 at 8:42 PM

The GOP should be out with a five- to ten-point plan to improve the healthcare and health insurance industries. NOW.

BuckeyeSam on October 23, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Two issues with that…

1. The GOP doesn’t want to repeal Obamacare. They would like to be the ones running it, of course, but they don’t want it to go away. The GOP is not a party of small government. They are the party of “minutely smaller government than that other party.”

2. The federal government can do nothing to “fix” health care other than getting the hell out of it. Unfortunately, with our current American populace, actually trying to sell “we just want to completely extricate the federal government from health care and let the market do its job” will never sell.

Shump on October 23, 2013 at 4:01 PM

See the House conservatives plan at http://rsc.scalise.house.gov/solutions/rsc-betterway.htm

kcewa on October 23, 2013 at 9:11 PM

See the House conservatives plan at http://rsc.scalise.house.gov/solutions/rsc-betterway.htm

kcewa on October 23, 2013 at 9:11 PM

Thanks, that’s HR 3121; here’s HR 2300, another Republican plan:

HR 2300: Yes, There is a Republican Plan to Replace ObamaCare

The notion that “Republicans don’t have a plan” is just another bullcrap democratic talking point. Of course, the liberal media will not acknowledge any Republican plans, just as with the recent debt limit showdown.

slickwillie2001 on October 23, 2013 at 9:27 PM

WARRING—WARRING—DANGER

Healthcare.gov a hackers tool for prosperity.

All sites on the internet use some basic form of the same security access., A user name ( in the open) and a password (encrypted and displayed as a series of dots on the screen). Except in Healthcare.gov. Paste any encrypted password from any where NOT INTO the password block BUT INTO into the user name and it will display the password in the open for you to see and use. All file transaction (what you send and receive on the internet) are kept in temp files on the computer. Even in these temp file the passwords are in encrypted form. Now a hacker has to do is go to a public use internet place like a library. Download the temp files then run the passwords through Healthcare.gov and they now have open copies of your username, password and any and all account info.

Is this what Obama meant as the most open and transparent ever?

jpcpt03 on October 24, 2013 at 1:48 AM

If security FOR ALL OF THE USER’S (and/or enrollee’s) PERSONAL DATA is not a primary part of the architecture, the entire program needs to be blown up, shredded, and discarded. In addition, all personal data collected to date needs to be destroyed, with the destruction certified IN WRITING to the person who owns the data, and with certified copies of documents ordering the SSA to provide a new SSN to the victim, who should also be furnished with identity fraud recovery and monitoring services for at least 3 years at government expense.

Every piece of this system needs to be tested to BETTER-THAN-PCI-SECURITY, and RE-CERTIFIED EVERY 30 DAYS AND ANY TIME THERE IS ANY CHANGE WHATSOEVER TO THE SYSTEM.

landlines on October 24, 2013 at 2:27 AM

Healthcare.gov a hackers tool for prosperity.

All sites on the internet use some basic form of the same security access., A user name ( in the open) and a password (encrypted and displayed as a series of dots on the screen). Except in Healthcare.gov. Paste any encrypted password from any where NOT INTO the password block BUT INTO into the user name and it will display the password in the open for you to see and use. All file transaction (what you send and receive on the internet) are kept in temp files on the computer. Even in these temp file the passwords are in encrypted form. Now a hacker has to do is go to a public use internet place like a library. Download the temp files then run the passwords through Healthcare.gov and they now have open copies of your username, password and any and all account info.

Is this what Obama meant as the most open and transparent ever?

jpcpt03 on October 24, 2013 at 1:48 AM

Whoa. That in itself is strong supporting evidence that the base code for the system is in fact a COBOL variant. Because I remember that being a fault of COBOL programs when I took computer programming over three decades ago.

Back then we had printouts and were just starting to get monitor readouts, but I clearly remember that by changing the address code for a password field to that for an ID field, surprise!- up came the password. It was a mistake we had to remember not to make.

And it was an easy one to make, as password field and ID field address codes often differed by only one or two characters. The prof attributed this to a combination of lazy programmers and a “by-the-numbers” mindset.

Of course, it also was a “mistake” which could have allowed us into secure Federal databases. Like the Defense Department’s, for instance.

This clusterf**k just keeps getting better by the minute. If you’re a fan of Grand Guignol, that is.

cheers

eon

eon on October 24, 2013 at 7:21 AM

Note that https://www.healthcare.gov cannot even pass a basic HTML Validity test!!!

If anybody was actually billed for this web site creation, there ought to be a corresponding prosecution for criminal fraud!!! …with an additional count for EACH PAGE which cannot pass this fundamental test!!

landlines on October 24, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Using COBOL for a large scale web-based system these days is darn near equivalent to trying to put a wood-fired steam engine into a Ferrari to build a race car.

dentarthurdent on October 23, 2013 at 3:47 PM

Ain’t it da truth!

Started with Algol, FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC; went through PL/1 on the way to teaching; “retired” just as C et al. was coming in.
Nobody in their right mind does COBOL anymore (and probably not in the past).

Reading this thread is just like being back at work, although I never did a system as large as some of you have experience with.

Nothing in the requirements for good program / system design have changed; some of the methods are much, much better.
But it still boils down to whether the customer is asking for something sane, or not.

AesopFan on October 24, 2013 at 4:48 PM

In a normal commercial situation a snafu like this would be resolved with a threat of legal action and a swift refund from the vendor. The government should be asking for a refund.

Websites like this don’t cost that much to develop.

Having said that, given the senseless nature of the law, it may just be impossible to code what the law says.

virgo on October 26, 2013 at 2:07 AM

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