Those familiar with how Federal IT projects usually roll will suggest an alternative question: with three years to prepare a system that is expected to cost $683.81 million—and much of that preparation being bureaucratic haggling over the rules for its operation—how did the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and CGI manage to get anything up at all?
Federal IT projects are infamous for blowing out the “iron triangle” of project management—cost, scope, and schedule. Healthcare.gov hits all three sides of the triangle. Because of the legislative mandate for Healthcare.gov and its state-run cohorts, the project was handed a massive scope. With Congress eager to cut its throat, the program has been highly budget-sensitive. And with a hard deadline of October 1 and a heavy up-front regulatory process required to create the specifications for the portal, three years was a very tight deadline.
Based on the Federal IT Dashboard, which tracks the project status and risk for most of the federal government’s major IT programs, it would appear that HHS and the Obama Administration were relatively confident that the exchange sites would launch on time. However, they were less confident about it coming in under budget. Known as the “CMS CCIIO Healthcare Insurance Exchange IT Investment,” the program was assigned a “medium risk” evaluation (A “3” on a scale of 5) at the end of July. That rating wasn’t because there was concern about the schedule. Instead, the risk rating was assigned because HHS’ Chief Information Officer Frank Baitman was concerned about potential cost overruns for the website implementation.