WASHINGTON (AP) — Crammed into conference rooms with pizza for dinner, some programmers building the Obama administration’s HealthCare.gov exchange enrollment website were growing increasingly stressed.
Project developers who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity — because they feared they would otherwise be fired — said they complained openly to each other about what they considered tight and unrealistic deadlines. One was nearly brought to tears over the stress of finishing on time, one developer said.
The system behind the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange enrollment site is complex.
The system must verify a host of personal information, including income and immigration system. The system must connect to many different federal computer networks, including networks at the Social Security Administration, IRS, Veterans Administration, Office of Personnel Management and the Peace Corps.
Some developers worked past 10 p.m., energy drinks in hand. Others rewrote computer code over and over to meet what they considered last-minute requests for changes from the government or other contractors.
Outside software companies usually perform the final integration testing for a big website. Congressional investigators have concluded that a team at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), not private software developers, handled the HealthCare.gov integration testing during the final weeks.
Just weeks before the Oct. 1 launch, one programmer said, colleagues huddled in conference rooms trying to patch “bugs,” or deficiencies in computer code. Unresolved problems led to visitors experiencing cryptic error messages or enduring long waits trying to sign up.
The government spent at least $394 million on federal health care exchange and data hub contracts. Those contracts included major awards to Virginia-based CGI Federal Inc., Maryland-based Quality Software Services Inc. and Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.
CGI Federal said in a statement Monday it was working with the government and other contractors “around the clock” to improve the system, which it called “complex, ambitious and unprecedented.”