banner james carlini - Carlini's CornerBy James Carlini

“We spent over $600,000,000 and got what for our money?”

That should be the top story on every news channel as well as in the minds of all taxpayers who were waiting for some type of better health plan than what they were paying for. It should also be the first question asked in Washington, DC on BOTH sides of the aisle.

What happened to quality in software engineering? When you are developing mission critical applications, you need to focus on quality.

ROLLS_GROUPThat intense focus on quality has been long-lost by many firms trying to cut corners in places where there are no corners to cut. As I have said a long time ago both to clients and to classes at Northwestern University, “There is no such thing as a new $5,000 Rolls-Royce, you get what you pay for.” In the case of the healthcare website, they paid good money but got a poor result.

Forget about Healthcare coverage and let’s talk about this fiasco as a systems project that went awry. There could have been a much better way to have kept ownership on this project and had the results of it come out better than what has happened with the current situation.


The website and system for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was built by a foreign contractor. Why? We have so many out-of-work systems people in the United States, we could have created a big stimulus program to get all these U.S. citizens back to work on a really challenging project – a national mission critical health care system.

This was a real “keyboard-ready” project that could have employed thousands of Americans. We didn’t have needs for shovel-ready projects for the government to create a couple of years ago. Those weren’t the skill sets that were going unemployed or underemployed in the last several years compared to those in systems, engineering and IT environments.

Systems people, people with keyboard skills and software engineering backgrounds could have used a project like this to get back on track, back on their feet financially and catch up with their mortgage payments. They also could have done a better job because their motivation would be that they were building the architecture for a major, mission critical system for the United States.

Instead, the project went to a foreign firm which promised a lot but didn’t seem to deliver much. Now we have to contend with people not signing up, people not using the website and people not being covered by a healthcare plan because the in-place system wasn’t tested properly.


Could it have gone better if Americans built it? I think so. If you have good people work on a system, they will make sure it works. Anyone that has any type of real systems background knows you have to do a lot of testing before you cut a system live to the users of that system.

Every piece of software should have been tested. Once that was tested, the next step would be to test the subsystems and the capabilities of the system to process inquiries and registrations. The next step would be to stress test the system and to perform integration testing to make sure everything worked.

This was not a small systems project, nor one that did not have impact on every family in America. Evidently, Washington DC does not have the caliber of systems people in charge that it thinks it has. Probably a lot of people with big egos and small skill sets claiming to be “experts” in software engineering and mission critical applications. Well, if you’re an expert, I’m a god.

Back when I worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories in real-time software development for the nation’s phone network, software engineers focused on quality and no software would be turned out to the Bell operating companies to run their central offices unless it was bug-free. New patents came out of Bell Labs on a daily basis.

What if the ACA was developed as a “keyboard-ready” project? We would have had Americans working on it and there would have been more of a focus to do the job right. It also would have meant that the $600,000,000 was spent in America and then re-circulated into our economy instead of another country’s economy. Think of the acceleration of our economy due to that big money influx.


Copyright 2013 – James Carlini



  1. Some great questions brought up here. Why did a foreign contractor get the job? Didn’t anyone check their record?

    This has been embarrassing for the current administration, to say the least and it couldn’t come at a worst time for the proponents of the ACA.

    According to Fox News:

    “The question arises whether the government was aware of the Hawaii or even the Canada issues when they hired CGI for the job.

    “They might not even have known,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based non-profit watchdog group. By all official accounts, CGI’s performance record at the federal level is “clean.” Contracting officers don’t always dig through local, state or international records to surmise a bidder’s performance. And if they do, records aren’t always so transparent.

    “They should be aware of such cases, but generally they are not.”

    Bagnola suggested that CGI has been shrewd politically, giving to both Democrats and Republicans at both the state and federal levels. In the case of Hawaii, Bagnola said the company was able to continue to work on the DOTAX contract despite repeated complaints from management and a “corrosive” environment in which government employees felt pitted against CGI staff. This was noted in the final 2010 audit.

    “I don’t have an ax to grind here, except I was just trying to do my job for this team and stop the state of Hawaii from being ripped off,” he said.

    According to campaign records at, CGI Group contributed $345,600 to federal candidates and parties — both Democratic and Republican — during the 2011-12 cycle. Some $147,000 went to the Republican Governors Association; and $35,000 to the Democratic Governors Association. The company spent $400,000 in lobbying expenditures between 2011 and 2012.”

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