After the 2012 election, a great deal of time was spent discussing the wide technical gap between the capabilities of the Romney and Obama websites as well as their respective get-out-the-vote efforts. While Romney had entrusted a deeply flawed system called Orca with his Election Day strategy, the Obama reelection team relied on a robust website that many have attributed, at least partially, to his victory. It’s too bad that the Obama administration didn’t use that technological acumen to build a website that was at least half as sound for its signature piece of legislation, ObamaCare.

The launch of the ObamaCare exchanges had long been slated for October 1 of this year. The Obama administration had three years to build the website and almost half a billion dollars at its disposal to make it not only functional, but also secure. From the morning of October 1, however, stories of its utter failure have reverberated through the normally Obama-friendly media. Even CNN’s own Wolf Blitzer yesterday stated on air that if the exchanges weren’t ready, the administration should have delayed the rollout of the exchanges for a year, as many Republicans have suggested. CBS has called the launch “nothing short of disastrous.” A new poll shows how the news has impacted Americans’ view of the rollout, with only seven percent of those polled stating that the debut of the government’s health-insurance marketplaces went “extremely well” or “very well.” 

The Obama administration has placed the blame on the difficulties experienced by the sites on the fact that they are so popular among the American people. That popularity hasn’t seemed to translate into Americans actually signing up for the exchanges, with estimates of enrollees from states like Iowa currently in the single digits over a week after the exchanges’ launch. Even if the failure of the site was due to its extreme popularity (a claim that has justifiably been called into question by many IT experts), the question is: why? A technical blog explained just how stable the Obama campaign’s fundraising platform was in the lead-up to the 2012 election:

The centerpiece of the whole Obama campaign was its fundraising capabilities, without which all of the other applications may have been moot. The 2012 campaign’s online donation system was a complete rebuild from the 2008 effort, VanDenPlas said, “a multi-region, geolocated, three facility processor capable of a per second transaction count sufficiently high enough that we failed to be able to reach it in load testing. It could also operate if every other dependent service had failed, including its own database and every vendor.”

The Obama campaign’s websites were also hosted on Amazon and hardened. The campaign’s engineers built an application that created static HTML snapshots of the sites stored in Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3); in the event of a Web server failure, requests would be instantly directed to the latest snapshot.

All of that redundancy was given an extra workout in the week before the election as Hurricane Sandy approached the East Coast. VanDenPlas said that a “complete hot replica of our entire infrastructure” was deployed to Amazon’s primary West Coast data center in under 24 hours as a precaution.

Compare this feat of technological knowhow to that of the ObamaCare websites, which the non-partisan technology blog Silicon Angle called “the biggest tech gaggle ever.” Silicon Angle lays out the many individual failures of the website, from its improper coding to the fact that contractors have had to reset the passwords of every single user. Today a Twitter user, Charlie Johnson, reportedly discovered an incompetent contractor working on the site had posted the server source code on an online forum for Java users less than a month before the site’s launch asking for crowd-sourcing assistance to fix a basic component of the site–a component which should have been in place months prior. This week the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration was aware of the many pitfalls of the exchanges before the launch: 

Two allies of the administration, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the controversy surrounding the rollout, said they approached White House officials this year to raise concerns that the federal exchange was not ready to launch. In both cases, Obama officials assured them there was no cause for alarm.

Johnson also reported how much of the source code on the website is, even as of today, in beta form, not ready for a website post-launch. When programmers build websites they often use the standard Latin phrase “Lorem ipsum” as a text placeholder until copy is written to take its place. Johnson highlights how the source code on has twenty examples of this Latin phrase still present on the live site. The way in which this source code was written (and then made public) could also serve as a massive security risk to those who have already imputed their information into the site. The creator of McAfee Anti-Virus software, John McAfee, called the structure of the exchanges’ website into question, stating that millions of Americans are at risk for identity theft using the website. 

Outside of the political considerations surrounding ObamaCare, it’s impossible to deny that those in charge of implementing and overseeing the launch of the ObamaCare exchanges have a duty to explain to the American people why over half a billion dollars was spent on an utterly flawed website. When the Obama administration turned to the private sector to create a functional website capable of sustaining massive influxes of traffic while processing financial donations, it produced a technological work of art. In contrast, when a government bureaucracy led by the Obama administration contracted a site with three years’ prior notice and a budget of over $600 million, it produced a monstrosity so big that many have argued it needs to be totally scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. In light of this experience, it’s a wonder that the Obama administration can still believe that bureaucrats, not the private sector, are best equipped to administer the healthcare of millions of Americans.

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