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FCW : November 15, 2013
22 November 15, 2013 FCW.COM Health IT accountable. There is a lot of hyste- ria about ring the secretary of HHS for this mess. I think that s a misstep. Although Kathleen Sebelius depar- ture might be a political win for right-of-center adversaries, it s not going to do anything to solve the real problem of what has happened here. Other departures would, however. Every new federal service has to get a certi cation and accreditation and an authority to operate. The people who signed those documents saying that HealthCare.gov was a product that met and passed all the speci ed requirements assumed the risk of failure and ought to be red. Clearly, they re not capable of being in positions where they can assess those requirements and assume that risk. Replace them with people who are quali ed to run a technical recov- ery option. 2. Open everything, even if you have to go slow It was a lack of critical thought about architecture that got you into this problem in the rst place. Con- tinuing to not think about architect- ing a way out of it will make getting out of the mess even worse. So we need to design a system that s going to give you the best chance of success. First step: Bring back the old GitHub repository for the front end of HealthCare.gov. People were actu- ally participating with you, and you shut it down. Turn it back on and let them participate. Second: You ve got to know what some of the problems are inside. Can you open source the ones that involve custom software code? Do it --- as fast as you can. I know you re using a lot of commercial off-the- shelf software and that it s virtually impossible to open source that. Ask your vendor to do it, and if it doesn t say yes in 24 hours, tell it that it will be replaced with an open-source version. Begin to make a real GitHub repository, one that includes all the code required to run HealthCare.gov. Then use the current Presidential Innovation Fellows as community ambassadors and managers for this open-source community you re about to build. They all know how to work GitHub. Let them gure out how to get the code out, document- ed and workable by people on the outside who could help. 3. RFP-EZ 10x For those who don t know, when Park says "the best and brightest from inside and outside govern- ment," he s referring to the Presi- dential Innovation Fellows. So I sus- pect that s who will be tasked with this recovery operation. And some fellows might be able to "scrub in" to solve this problem. Are they won- derful and bright? You bet. My rm, the Department of Better Technolo- gy, was founded from the inaugural round of the program. But are they the right people to solve the issues at hand? I m not sure. There are people lining up who want to solve this problem. Lots of them, DOBT included, would love to help. But we re blocked out. During my round as a Presiden- tial Innovation Fellow, I led the team that built RFP-EZ. The sys- tem makes it easy for government to issue requests for proposals for projects that cost less than $150,000 and makes it easy for companies or individuals to bid on xing those problems. Use the program to openly solicit new businesses to help x Health- Care.gov. Write a clear, open, short and honest RFP that allows experts to see where you think the problems are and invite them to submit bids not to exceed $149,999 for ways to solve those problems. Issue the RFPs on Monday, select the win- ners by Thursday, have them on the ground by the following Monday. I understand you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. But you have the ability to get the army you want in a matter of days. All it takes is leadership. The leadership to end the cycle of blunders without accountability; the leadership to be clear, honest and open about where the problems are; and the leadership to allow for a dif- ferent set of vendors to come in and x the mess that your old set made for you. The most important thing? This is the best opportunity people like Park and Deputy CTO Jennifer Pahlka will have, during their entire careers, to show that government can work a different way. By using the playbook described above, they can turn the Health- Care.gov crisis into an opportunity that will cause rapid change in the way government buys things, which will lead to a more cost-effective government, more jobs for small- business creators and, most impor- tant, better service delivery from government to the people govern- ment serves. Two choices lie ahead: Keep it locked down, and you win the battle. Open it up, and you win the war. ■ Clay Johnson is a former Presi- dential Innovation Fellow and co- founder and CEO of the Department of Better Technology. A version of this essay rst appeared as a blog post on DOBT.co. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park is helping to lead the cleanup crew.
October 30, 2013
November 30, 2013