The Corporate Ethos That Contributed to Healthcare.gov's Failure

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 27 2013 5:44 PM

The Corporate Ethos That Contributed to Healthcare.gov's Failure

182585871
Always blame the contractor.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Newsweek has a deep dive into the doings of CGI, the Montreal-based behemoth who scored the healthcare.gov project. Along with detailing allegations of shady contract-bidding schemes, the story shows how the ethos of CGI Federal, which beat out three other companies for the healthcare.gov contract, could have proved problematic:

CGI has a slim policy manual and relatively little in-house training for its staff -- unusual for a company that now has 69,000 employees across 400 worldwide offices. Under a “make your own job” ethos, CGI Group generally does not give employees job descriptions or job titles; instead, it lumps their skills into a database and requires them to find their own projects within the company. As part of that “manage yourself” mandate, CGI doesn’t even track sick days, and its three-week “bench policy” requires an employee to find a new project in that time-frame or risk being fired. Most employees are identified as “consultants,” and are compensated through profit-sharing plans. All that traces back to [founder Serge] Godin’s favorite saying: “Nobody ever washes a rental car” -- if you own it, you will take care of it.
Advertisement

That "manage yourself" philosophy may work fine within the confines of one company, but when dealing with multiple contractors and federal agencies, it's no wonder one of the problems with the healthcare.gov rollout was a lack of communication between front-end and back-end developers. Of course, CGI is not wholly responsible for healthcare.gov's failure, and the tangle of responsibility is difficult to pick apart. That should be abundantly clear to anyone who watched each agency rep effuse that the site rollout was definitely not their fault during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings.*

But as David Auerbach has written, if you're creating a website meant to service a large swath of Americans, and juggling multiple contractors, you'd better have a good management system in place. One step the government could take, as Auerbach mentions, would be for the government to hire a "schedule asshole" to keep the contractors in line. As it is, Godin's proverbial car remains unwashed.

Short programming note: The Weigel blog will be off Friday, Nov. 29. Happy Thanksgiving!

*Correction, Dec. 2, 2013: This post originally stated that healthcare.gov contractors testified at hearings before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.