Policy goals, political reality, and IT problems : the influence of politics and policy-making on the launch of Healthcare.gov
Successfully designing and delivering a large-scale information technology (IT) system to meet new organizational objectives is a difficult undertaking in any context. The failure of the federally-facilitated online health insurance exchanges – known most commonly by their website address Healthcare.gov – to properly function when they opened for operations in 2013 provides a case study in how politics and policy-making can uniquely complicate IT projects in the public sector. Analysis reveals several instances where the legislative and regulatory process contributed to the project’s initial failure: from the project’s inception, elected representatives oversold the familiarity and simplicity of the site; statutory and regulatory law amplified the underlying technological complexity of the exchanges; partisan tensions extended the uncertainties around project scope until much too late in the process; legal and political concerns for maintaining stated delivery deadlines came at the cost of adequate testing and site functionality when it first opened; and the team appointed to oversee the project was more sensitive to political challenges then technological ones. Based on these findings, several recommendations are provided to help future representatives and government administrators minimize the negative toll that politics and policy-making can exact on a public sector IT project’s success. These include actively managing expectations, increasing information flow, simplifying functionality, providing fluid but reasonable delivery timelines, and appointing independent and technically savvy project leadership. Using Healthcare.gov as a case study on the effects politics and policy can have on developing IT systems can better prepare legislators and the public for future challenges of developing and implementing technology solutions in the public sector.