Obama hires tech team to improve websites after HealthCare.gov debacle

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Obama hires tech team to improve websites after HealthCare.gov debacle

Appoints ex Google website manager as lead.

The US White House has appointed a team of private sector technology experts to fix up government websites and bolster their underlying infrastructure to avoid a repeat of last year's bungled launch of the HealthCare.gov health insurance enrolment portal.

It revealed yesterday it would recruit up to 10 technology gurus from the private sector for the project, which would be led by former Google website manager Mikey Dickerson - who was also a member of the team appointed last year to fix HealthCare.gov before it relaunched in December.

The mission of the "US Digital Service" team will be to establish standards to bring the government’s digital services in line with the best private sector services, identify common technology patterns to scale services effectively, and collaborate with agencies to identify and address gaps in services and provide accountability for results.

The Digial Services team will be funded by US$7 million in existing funds for 2014, and will require another US$20 million in fiscal 2015, which will pay for the team's expansion to 25 members.

"The Digital Service will work to find solutions to management challenges that can prevent progress in IT delivery," a White House spokesperson said in a blog post.

"To do this, we will build a team of more than just a group of tech experts – Digital Service hires will have talent and expertise in a variety of disciplines, including procurement, human resources, and finance. The Digital Service team will take private and public-sector best practices and help scale them across agencies – always with a focus on the customer experience in mind."

The creation of the team and the appointment of Dickerson as leader signals the US Government's efforts to apply the lessons learnt from its botched HealthCare.gov rollout more widely across government.

The website's launch was plagued by technical glitches, which blocked customers from signing up for health insurance plans for two months as the government attempted to rectify the infrastructure issues.

It managed to stabilise the system fully in January this year, but not after incurring massive costs from the effort.

A report released earlier this month by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) [pdf] found the process had been destined for disaster from its inception in October 2011, thanks to management, oversight and contracting problems.

The US Government committed to spending US$840 million on the site and its associated systems in March this year - which will include implementing a significant portion of the system's back-end which remains incomplete.

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