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The Best and the Brightest: Obama to Hire Special Teams of IT Experts to Fix
National Review ^ | 10/22/2013 | Yuval Levin

Posted on 10/22/2013 9:02:13 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

The administration’s effort to respond to the catastrophic rollout of the federal Obamacare exchange seems at this point to consist of having special teams of IT experts from inside and outside the government — in the president’s words, “the best and the brightest” — come in and help fix the site.

Even if you put aside the fact that the phrase “the best and the brightest” was popularized by the title of a David Halberstam book about how smart people can do stupid things (in that case, mismanage American foreign policy and march the nation into the Vietnam War), this idea seems very problematic.

Anyone who has been part of a federal project that involves technical work performed by contractors has got to be shaking his head today at the vision of outsiders swooping into a massive project and fixing complex mistakes. The attempt to integrate new people with very high opinions of their own technical prowess into this mind-numbingly complicated undertaking will involve a lot of unpleasant meetings that waste the time of people who should be working on the site, the endeavor will be severely hamstrung by the basic character of federal contracting work (in which the four corners of the contract are everything and rules matter more than goals), and it will all only delay the inevitable end game — which is that the contractors who screwed this up will need to be the people who unscrew it, they will do it slowly and clumsily, and they will get paid handsomely by the taxpayer for the additional work.

I think the idea that Silicon Valley types are going to rescue the bureaucracy confuses two kinds of technical mastery: experimental innovation and consolidated management. Each has its strengths and its weaknesses, but these two visions generally do not play well together. Successful technology firms do a huge amount of trial and error, avoid over-management, and create adaptive knowledge systems that work by learning and are constantly tested against competitors. The federal bureaucracy develops and enforces uniform rules meant to apply technical knowledge it (thinks it) already possesses to a complex and chaotic world to make it simpler and more orderly — to make it do the bidding of policymakers. As Max Weber put it, “bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge.” The maxim of the Internet age is closer to “liberation through knowledge.”

The former vision is built on the premise that the modern age is defined by the immense growth of technical knowledge and expertise and a key role of our social and political institutions is to apply that knowledge and expertise to society to make it more rational. The latter vision is built on the premise that the modern age is defined by every individual’s overwhelming ignorance (or as Hayek put it, his reliance on knowledge he does not possess) and a key role of our social and political institutions is to enable local knowledge to be consolidated in practice through innumerable individual trials and errors that add up to practical progress but not to centralized expertise. Think of it as applying expert knowledge vs. channeling social knowledge. It’s the difference between how the left and the right think about a lot of policy questions, very much including health care.

That doesn’t mean the problems with can’t or won’t be solved, of course. But it probably means they won’t be solved by infusing Silicon Valley brilliance into the process. The spirit in which this site was created was like the spirit the law seeks to impose on the health-care system: managerial, not innovative. Its early problems are almost enough to make you think that maybe the federal government shouldn’t have too much control over a health-care system badly in need of innovation and efficiency, aren’t they?

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: healthcare; it; obamacare
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To: Lou L
Wouldn't they need a law, at least?

You crack me up.

51 posted on 10/22/2013 10:33:53 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy (21st century. I'm not a fan.)
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To: txhurl
RE:”You could almost infer..... that the insurance industry wants no part of zerocare. If they did, they would have written the code and it would have worked.”

The health insurance industry I recall supported it's passage because of the two mandate's $$$$ to them, but are obviously now finding things they dislike about it.

This disaster sounds like your typical massive Fedgov software project where the requirements grew endlessly in number and increasing complexity and made the chances of it working smoothly in any reasonable amount of time hopeless, and if stories are correct they imposed a unrealistically short schedule for secrecy, a sure way to create a design that must be thrown out and much of it re-worked.

52 posted on 10/22/2013 10:35:16 AM PDT by sickoflibs (To GOP : Any path to US Citizenship IS putting them ahead in line. Stop lying about your position)
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“Obama’s already spent a half billion dollars on this mess ... He didn’t start with people who knew what they were doing because with dems it’s always cronies and incompetents first...”

Rest assured, the next IT team will also be cronies.

Someone who knows (not sure who) said it should have cost around one million to build the website. Where did the rest of the money go?

Where will the next 500 million go?

53 posted on 10/22/2013 10:37:14 AM PDT by Heart of Georgia
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To: cuban leaf
You don’t bring in an “extra special smart” team of guys

I remember back around 1998 or so when my corporation switched to a new computer system which was favored by our German owners.

I forget what the system was but it cost us $18 million and they naturally provided all the IT teams to work with our programmers and designated department supervisors.

They were on site for 18 months training everyone who would be using the system

Considering the vastness of the system, the info to be stored and the types of scheduling and reports that could be created, it was far more complex than what our govt is trying to do. And far cheaper too.....

54 posted on 10/22/2013 10:44:15 AM PDT by Hot Tabasco (Make sure you have removed the kleenex from your pockets before doing laundry)
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To: Heart of Georgia

“Where will the next 500 million go?”

My guess is to left wing weasels farming out there best IT folks from Yahoo and Google.

55 posted on 10/22/2013 10:56:40 AM PDT by DAC21
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To: Lazamataz

I see you kept the Mullet. Good for you!

56 posted on 10/22/2013 11:16:08 AM PDT by Cyber Liberty (We're At That Awkward Stage: It's too late to vote them out, too early to shoot the bastards.)
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To: SeekAndFind
Let's see.

1. Handle millions of users or at least fail gracefully for the ones who try to log in after the processing limit is hit.

2. Allow users to create accounts, verify their identity using industry standard methods, enter in far too personal of information and look through an inventory of possible policies in the low thousands range to determine which are applicable to the customer.

3. Pass the information in a standard format to the actual selling companies because this is just a sales front end like Travelocity rather than the actual airline.

This isn't a "best and brightest" project. Landing people on the moon with a computer having 80 kB of total memory (RAM and ROM) and a 1 MHz processor was for the "best and brightest". Other than the ability to handle a load of 300 million customers, this requires "minimally trained in web programming", which the Obama administration didn't even hit.

57 posted on 10/22/2013 11:24:13 AM PDT by KarlInOhio (Everyone get online for Obamacare on 10/1. Overload the system and crash it hard!)
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To: All

Wait a minute...I thought Clinton mental midget Sturgeon General Joycelyn Elders told us we were going to lose our “best and brightest” because of AIDS...and lack of funding...or something...

58 posted on 10/22/2013 12:24:44 PM PDT by Prov1322 (Enjoy my wife's incredible artwork at! (This space no longer for rent))
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To: SeekAndFind

Great Leader should call on the NSA IT department. They have no problems tackling much more difficult computer & high-tech related projects. Maybe he doesn’t believe in promoting from within.

59 posted on 10/22/2013 12:26:15 PM PDT by AD from SpringBay (
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To: SeekAndFind

That’s the central thesis of Frederick Brooks’ classic book, “The Mythical Man-Month,” which perfectly fits this situation, as pointed out by Matt Yglesias at Slate. The most famous axiom from the book, described as the “Bible of software engineering,” is Brooks’ law, which states that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

“Men and months are not interchangeable,” Brooks writes. “When schedule slippage is recognized, the natural (and traditional) response is to add manpower. Like dousing a fire with gasoline, this makes matters worse, much worse. More fire requires more gasoline, and thus begins a regenerative cycle, which ends in disaster.”

The first instinct of anyone who needs to get more done quicker is to add more people. But particularly when it comes to software, this notion is far from reality. Software projects are hard to split into easily defined tasks, and they require an immense amount of communication and management to complete. Adding more people makes these issues massively more complex.

Read more:

60 posted on 10/22/2013 6:56:58 PM PDT by razorback-bert (I'm in shape. Round is a shape isn't it?)
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