The White House Demo of Obamacare Was a Test Dummy



How did the Obama administration allow HealthCare.gov launch when it was so obviously broken? Wasn't there a test-run for senior White House officials to see what the final product looked like?

The answer, according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, is yes, except that the product demo White House officials saw over the summer wasn't actually a working product. It was a mock-up of the front-end interface with no functional back-end behind it. 

When CMS presented HealthCare.gov to White House officials over the summer, they displayed a demonstration version of the website composed of screen-shots of the real exchange and overlaid with interactive features.

That version re-created the user interface, but didn't include the underlying mechanics—such as identity verification and eligibility determinations—that have foiled the site's launch. Displaying such versions for demonstration purposes is common in the computer industry. But it left senior officials unaware of the more complicated and ultimately troubled workings of the exchange.

These sorts of mock-ups are common enough in the software industry. What's not common is mistaking them for a working product. It's the equivalent of an auto executive being shown a new car design without a working engine inside. 

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  1. That’s all the White House needed to see, because they assumed that behind the scenes the site was powered by unicorn farts and the infinite power of good intentions.

    1. They had top men working on it, why wouldn’t it work??

      They just need to connect some databases and so some calculations. Basically run it through google or something, right? Sounds pretty simple!

      1. Top women. CMS’ head of operations was Michelle Obama’s classmate at princeton, apparently.

        1. Top klingons?

        2. No, CGI the contractor hired a classmate of Michelle’s to be an exec in charge of “client relations” in 2010 a few months after the law passed.

          And not just some random classmate…a classmate in the same year, with the same major, and the same minor.

  2. It was a mock-up of the front-end interface with no functional back-end behind it.

    So it was the same as the rest of his administration?

    1. Yes as a matter of fact it was.

    2. Damn you, Splenda! You stole my snarky reply!

    3. OK, so the unicorn was the pony. Does that make Sebelius the bitch^Wdog?

  3. Ask yourself for a moment if Steve Jobs would have let Apple release the iPhone based on a plastic mock-up and some slides showing how it would work. Or if Bill Gates would have let a new Windows version go out based on a few slides with some screenshots. The idiocracy in the White House is just staggering.

    1. Obama didn’t know there were problems until the news reports! The fact that the president doesn’t ever know what’s going on until he reads about it in the newspaper is how leadership works in Post-Rational America!

      Deny! Deflect! Denigrate!

      1. The disturbing part is that this response was likely focus grouped. The focus group preferred Chauncey Gardener to Mr Smith.

    2. The first iPhone presentation is awesome — the prototype barely worked, and they did all kinds of tricks to mock it up.

      Then, with Jobs’s approval, they preprogrammed the phone’s display to always show five bars of signal strength regardless of its true strength. The chances of the radio’s crashing during the few minutes that Jobs would use it to make a call were small, but the chances of its crashing at some point during the 90-minute presentation were high. “If the radio crashed and restarted, as we suspected it might, we didn’t want people in the audience to see that,” Grignon says. “So we just hard-coded it to always show five bars.”

      They had something like 5 prototypes for different parts of the preso. There was one golden path through the demo, and that’s what had to be followed.

      Of course, the difference is, a couple of months later when they started selling it, it worked.

      1. There are also the stories of how Jobs carried around prototypes in his pocket for weeks at a time to see how he liked them, what needed to be changed, etc.

        1. I believe they switched from a plastic screen to Gorilla glass late in the game because he noticed the screen got scratched by his keys.

      2. Top comment:

        “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator…are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone.”

        (That still gives me chills)

        I sometimes forget how creepy these people can be.

    3. Look, dude, he told some people to make it happen. He doesn’t need to see actual working proof. He ordered it to be so, so it must be so.

      God damn, watching this administration start to crash and burn is almost worth the past 5 years.

      1. God damn, watching this administration start to crash and burn is almost worth the past 5 years.

        I’m getting some mild amusement from it. Sometimes I even tune into the local news radio now, which I wasn’t doing 5 years ago.

        1. Me too. It is why I get annoyed with the “but this is going to cause people to just love the Progs more” crowd. This whole train wreck is awesome. These fuckers are finally having to live with their own policies.

          1. I wasn’t sure, but we’re finally seeing actual turning on him by some incredibly stalwart TEAM BLUE douchebags, which indicates to me that even they can’t keep defending him. Until I saw that, I was worried that the mass delusion would continue, but it’s looking pretty bad for Obama at this point. Delicious.

            1. Yeah. 60 Minutes finally turned on him. Granted, it was in an extremely mild way, but it feels like they’re testing the water, doesn’t it?

              1. I didn’t watch that. I never do. But did it make Hillary look bad? I wonder if that isn’t a hit job on Hillary. A lot of Dems really hate her.

                1. I only watched part of it with no sound in a Mexican restaurant, but I didn’t see any direct mention of Hilary. It mostly seemed to be talking about how Stevens and the security detail knew Al-Qaeda was planning to attack them, and had requested support twice and were denied, and were preparing a third request when the attack happened.

              2. I don’t watch shit like 60 Minutes, but yeah, it seems some of them are testing the waters. Some of them still have enough ego to want to not be the last to disavow the guy with the albatross around his neck.

              3. I don’t watch shit like 60 Minutes, but yeah, it seems some of them are testing the waters. Some of them still have enough ego to want to not be the last to disavow the guy with the albatross around his neck.

                1. ‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man?
                  By him who died on cross,
                  With his cruel bow he laid full low
                  The harmless Obamatross.

            2. Ted Roll, who in fairness has been anti-Obama for a long time over drones and such, wrote on Kos last week

              We still recall September 2013. It’s not like anyone in the White House announced before the launch: “Hey, don’t freak if you can’t access the websites right away. Chillax, wait a month or two. We’re expecting a lot of glitches, and things could be less than cromulent for a while.”

              No, Governor Palin, the truth behind the ACA mess is that Obama and his gang of golfing buddies are idiots.

              They can’t admit that the ideology is wrong. So they have to turn on the big man in charge. But doing that is going to hurt a lot. Obama was the light giver after all.

              1. Yeah, the hard left already views him as being a wimpy compromiser (seriously). Since their anti-racist credentials are impeccable in their minds, they will be the ones who break first.

              2. Obama was sold as the best the left, nay, America had to offer. If they ever try to pin these failures on him alone while trying to salvage the ideas behind them, we need to remind them of that, relentlessly.

                1. Exactly LynchPin1477. Throwing the black Jesus overboard is going to be harder than they think.

              3. Yeah, but Rall’s a flaming, true-red leftie. His disaffection is because Obama wasn’t liberal enough.

      2. Almost. But it is definitely worth him being re-eleced. I am glad he won in 2012. Had he lost he could have lived the rest of his life clinging to the counter factual that he would have been the greatest President ever if he had just been allowed to finish the job. Now he will leave as a laughing stock and spend the rest of his life touchy and butt hurt about how the country let him down.

        1. When he’s much older, I get the idea he will be like Bill Cosby. Sweater and crotchety attitude and everything.

        2. That’s a good point, along with your other counter factual that they would have saddled the failure of Obamacare around Romney’s neck. While no one here rightly gives a shit about Romney, Paul is currently one of the front runners for the R’s in 2016. Paul in 2016 would be a much better result for libertarians than Romney 2012.

          1. Yes. Objectively Romney would have been a better President than Obama by any measure. But he wouldn’t have been good enough to stop this debacle. I frankly not sure anyone would have been. Short of a 60 vote majority in the Senate, there was no way to repeal Obamacare. And had a Republican been President, the Dems and the media would have happily pinned all of the blame on him and then ran on a platform of a return to competence and single payer in 2016.

            1. I don’t know that’s true. Romneycare is basically obamacare, and it is almost certain he would have caved to political pressure to not touch it. Moreover, the republican house would very likely have rubber-stamped all of his spending.

              As it is, in terms of deficit reduction, Obama hasn’t been perfect, but he also hasn’t been completely disastrous, largely in part due to an obstructionist republican house.

              1. As it is, in terms of deficit reduction, Obama hasn’t been perfect, but he also hasn’t been completely disastrous, largely in part due to an obstructionist republican house.

                He has run up more debt than all of his predecessors combined. If that is not a disaster, I would like to know what is.

                And Romneycare is not Obamacare. That is a horse shit myth. The biggest difference would be that Romney, whatever his flaws, is not a buffoon and would actually have been a competent executive and at least been able to do the basic functions of a President. And with Romney and a Republican House, I don’t see how the Dems in the Senate could have gotten much spending through. Spending would be lower right now. The only reason the deficit has come down at all form 2009 is that Obama is such a bumbling incompetent he managed to agree to sequestration thinking it would force the Republicans to give him what he wanted.

                Make no mistake, every dime of deficit reduction is due to the Rs controlling the House. If the Dems still owned the House the Deficit would be over two trillion dollars right now. Romney would have been better than Obama. There is no way around. But he never would have gotten Obamacare repealed and he would have ended up letting the Dems off the hook.

                1. And with Romney and a Republican House, I don’t see how the Dems in the Senate could have gotten much spending through.

                  But the GOP would have free reign to spend like drunken sailors. Romney would probably be more responsible than to push the vast, new social spending like Bush did, but the GOP’s track record in curtailing spending is awfully bad.

                  1. Cato,

                    But the House and the Senate would never have been able to agree on what kind of spending. And the GOP House of 2013 is not the GOP House of 2004. And as far as the GOP record of curtailing spending. The deficit peaked in 2004 and went down every year through 2008. That the Republicans are no different than the Dems is a nice story and it makes the Libertarians feel extra special. But it is just not true. The 09 to 11 Congress was an order of magnitude worse than anything that the GOP had ever done. It just was.

                  2. but the GOP’s track record in curtailing spending is awfully bad.

                    The record of the current House would say differently. Short of just selling out and shutting down the government forever, something that not even the Libertarian party would do, I think they have done about as good as you could expect in stopping Reid and Obama.

              2. And don’t forget also, if Romney were President, the EPA wouldn’t be trying to regulate CO2 and the rest of the government wouldn’t be running on auto pilot strangling the economy.

      3. I think I was fully saturated with schadenfreude when they announced they would delay the individual mandate 6 weeks. Now I just want this long nightmare to be over so the next one can begin.

    4. Apple and MS would have consequences, severe ones, if that would happen.

      This administration is what happens when you get someone elected based solely on the fact that they can do whatever they want, no matter how bad, because anyone making any criticism will be labeled a racist.

    5. Bill Gates, maybe. 😉

    6. Or if Bill Gates would have let a new Windows version go out based on a few slides with some screenshots.

      I’m fully convinced this happened at least twice.

  4. Mockups are fine for demonstration of concept purposes before coding starts. Using one to fool the bosses that you have a system, not so much.

    1. Have you ever done government contacting before? All too common.

      1. Thank zod my team doesn’t operate that way. We do a fully-functional development site for our government overlords. That’s always the final requirement for every project we do.

        Sometimes I think I lucked out and got a job on the only competent contracting team in the history of government.

        1. Mostly it just depends on whether your client manager is a pigeon or not. If they fly in, shit on everything, and get everyone annoyed, its a bad go — public or private.

      2. This whole thing screams poor contract performance work statement (i.e. requirements not spelled out), and poor contract oversight.

    2. I’m sure the code was full of stubs with comments like

      //This is where the actual code goes once the Steering Committee stops wearing its ass for a hat.

      1. //Load background (waiting for art committee to pick a color scheme)

        //Connect to database. (Waiting for IDC)

        //Run whatever queries needed – (waiting for spec)

      2. /* This is the entirety of the main stylesheet until they decide on something. Anything. */

        1. See, I heard they spent the first two plus years deciding on the look-feel. Once the font war was delivered victoriously to the HIpster-Modern Faction when the Hipster-Gothic faction was routed, they started talking about page-layouts and javascript for progress overlays.

          1. Our government bosses once spent a month of a three-month turnaround project deciding on a shade of blue.

            Funny, though, that all the deadline pressures fall to the developers (contractors).

            1. “You guys just pad your hours anyways. I’m sure its not as hard as you make it sound.”

              Sure, buddy, you pay $175/hr for my services because your mouth-breather data entry clerks can figure it out.

              1. Exactly. The policy wonks upstairs sometimes spend a year planning a big push (I essentially work for the United States’ marketing department) and all the components – video, poster presentations, Twitter accounts, etc., but somehow the web development is left until the eleventh hour. “Oh, this has been in planning for a year, but we need the web site by next week. Or sooner”

          2. I wonder how long it took them to find the perfect girl for the front page who could pass for part-asian, hispanic OR white.

            1. I still think they should have gone with Rashida Jones.

            2. You mean Waxman’s niece?

              At least that’s who she makes me think of…

      3. Haha! From people’s experience with the actual product, seems like they may have a left a buttload of those stubs in place…

    3. Using one to fool the bosses that you have a system, not so much.

      I doubt it was ever used in any such way. I’m sure the contractor mentioned that it was just a mock up every 60 seconds or so during the demo, and also mentioned it in every email that week.

      1. I’m debating whether the administration just chose not to hear them, or if they put it in the small print cause upper management wanted to put a good face on it.

        Could be that upper management was getting a lot of pressure to finish on time and was attempting to hide how far behind they were right up until the last minute. (Probably figuing that they could pull it together in the last 2 weeks.)

  5. When Sebelius first said that Obama didn’t know about the problems beforehand, I wondered whether it was because he didn’t know enough to pose intelligent questions about how it was going or because he did and was lied to. It appears to be number former.

    1. President Know-Nothing continues to know nothing.

    2. The downside of running a cult is that the cult members hate to give you bad news.

    3. but he’s from Harvard – HARVARD!!!

      1. Is the government incapable of doing these types of big things no matter who is in charge or is Obama an incompetent? Liberals will have to pick an answer.

        1. The answer is obviously

          c) Racist teathuglican obstrukkkshunizm.

        2. Is the government incapable of doing these types of big things no matter who is in charge


          The thing is, is that the first black potus cannot be held responsible for anything. They can’t keep that up forever.

          1. That is the problem. Expect a lot of “the country is just ungovernable under the current outdated Constitution” thumb sucking pieces in the wake of this disaster.

    4. I’d imagine there was a lot of “I’m not going to be the one to tell Comrade Stalin the wheat harvest has failed!” (shamelessly swiped from Jeff Tucker.

      Although I’d imagine news of how bad it was made it up to HHS/Sebelius. Must have made it beyond Center for Medicare/Medicaid (the “contract administrators”), right?

      1. I am sure there was a lot of that. Obama is known to have a terrible temper and a huge ego. Temper and ego are not the kind of thing that makes a leader’s subordinates want to come to him with bad news.

      2. I’m surprised there isn’t a Downfall spoof yet.

    5. CNN had two headlines while I was at the gym today. First was that Obama didn’t know about the NSA spying. Second was that Obama didn’t know about the website problems. The trouble with this class of excuse, and I’m not sure if CNN realizes it, is that if a leader doesn’t know about problems in his areas of responsibility (and for the president that’s everything the government does) it’s still a sign of incompetence. Not knowing perhaps exonerates you of charges of incompetence in any specific field but it just indicts you of incompetence in leadership.

      Rickover once said that you can delegate responsibility but it is still with you. You may share your responsibility with others but your portion is not diminished. If the administration’s damage control strategy is to claim that the person responsible was not in control they ought to be in huge trouble. We’ll see.

      1. That seems to be the excuse de jour “Obama is just a great guy who didn’t know how badly his subordinates were messing up”. There are two problems with that.

        First, as you say if you use it more than once in a while you end up making Obama look out of touch and incompetent. Second, if you pin all of the blame on his subordinates, you wind up discrediting the entire Democratic Party if you are not careful. Saying that every person who works in a Democratic Administration but the President is incompetent doesn’t exactly create a lot of enthusiasm to elect another one in 2016.

        1. I think that was a big part of the strength of Truman’s motto. People expect that if a person has a lot of plates to keep spinning some of them will fall sometimes. But they also expect the person to take responsibility, not disavow it.

          1. The other thing is bad news only gets worse with age. If obama had come out last summer and told the country, “look, we are trying but these things are not going to be ready. It is a big job” and then delayed Obamacare for a few months, he would have took a hit but nothing like this. Hiding the ugly truth just made it that much worse when it did come out.

            1. Yes.

            2. They should know this, yet they continue to try to hide shit.

              1. Socialists aren’t very good at thinking long-term. Oh, they are great at pie-in-the-sky daydreams, but not the actions-have-consequences stuff.

      2. “Just wait until Comrade Stalin finds out about this!”

        1. Yeah, that is the sweet part of this.

        2. If subordinates are afraid to tell a leader bad news – whether that perception is justified or not – that still reflects poorly on the leader.

          It all comes back to the person at the top. The Navy makes it very clear: if the ship runs aground you almost always see the captain sacked regardless of the degree of his direct involvement in the incident. Whether he gave the order that grounded the ship, failed to train his officers, or put an incompetent on the watchbill, the responsibility is his.

          1. My father was a manager for decades. He rightly I think says that the best way to tell if a manager is competent is how willing his subordinates are to tell him bad news. Everyone will go to their boss with good news. But when they will go to them with bad news, that means they trust their leader and feel he will bring something to the table to help solve the problem. What happens when a manager is incompetent is his subordinates just won’t tell him when things go wrong and try to solve the problem on their own because they don’t trust him and don’t feel like he has anything to offer to help. When that happens, the leader has no idea what is going on in his own organization.

      3. You can only play the ignorance card so many times.

        This is like the fourth time Obama has used it.

        1. this year

    6. It could be both. They were lying to him AND he didn’t know enough to pose intelligent questions about it.

      Also, he didn’t want to hear the truth.

      1. The guy ran on a slogan of Hope’n’Change%trade;.

        This is what the audacity of hope is all about.

    7. I find it amazing that for Obama supporters not knowing is considered an excuse, because that just means he didn’t enquire.

      How is that considered better than him knowing?

  6. And therein lies the problem with this program in particular, and government meddling in general. The people running it simply don’t know how much they don’t know.

    1. That is because they get to be where they are by being expert politicians, but then try to become expert planners over so many different areas of our lives.

  7. It was a crash test dummy, and it just flew through the windshield.

    Let’s release the pre-beta beta, nothing could possibly go wrong, our good intentions have never failed us before.

  8. If Obama made any mistake, it was only that he could have done a better job at explaining to the contractors how important it was for this roll out to make him look good.

  9. This is one of the best alt-texts I have seen. Great job Pete!

  10. Enjoy your PotemkinCare!

  11. Ok, so now the question is:

    Since the actual tests failed, what made them decide to launch the site anyway? Did the mock-up version of the site actually convince them that it worked well enough? Why were they ignoring their own developers reports about the test failures?

    This suggests that not only did they think the mock-up was the real thing, but thy actually refused to believe the engineers when the engineers told them that the real thing wasn’t working.

    It’s possible that the senior execs showed them the mock up and didn’t clearly explain that it was just a mock-up because they were AFRAID to tell them they were behind schedule. So they allowed the administration to believe that the site was working ok, because they knew that the administration wasn’t going to understand that it was just the front end, and wasn’t interested in hearing reports about it being behind schedule.

    My guess is that the administration made it clear that they didn’t want to hear about any schedule slips, so the senior execs just lied about it and made it look like the mock-up was the real thing.

    1. Have you ever read the Challenger report? It’s like that, except it was run by even dumber people. Moral: engineers need to stay far away from government work unless they’re desperate for work.

      1. This is actually worse. The NASA managers could at least say they made a rational, if immoral decision. Why cancel the mission and have a 100% chance of ruining your career when you can fly and have a chance that you get lucky and the thing won’t crash?

        Here, the website didn’t work. There was no chance that it was going to work correctly.

        1. Maybe it was like the Benghazi emails version of the event.

          Someone sent an email saying “The site doesn’t work, delay the launch!”

          That gets put into some talking points memo and it gets revised seven times until it says “A YouTube video (possibly made by Republican operatives) says the site doesn’t work. No reason to delay the launch.”

          And this final version is what they actually give to Obama.

          1. I’m reminded of the old joke about the engineer who is asked to evaluate something, and says, “It is a crock of shit, and it stinks.”
            His boss takes the message upstairs, and trying to be more politic, reports, “It is a pot of excrement, and it smells strongly.”
            HIS boss carries the message on and reports upstairs, “It is a container of manure, and it is very powerful.”
            And HIS boss passes the message on as, “It is a mighty fertilizer” and the president hears “It is great for encouraging growth!”

            1. Yes, I think that’s basically what happened here, in a nutshell.

        2. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t even a huge risk. I think it was something like 10% risk of failure. Obviously that’s too high to go forward when you are risking so many lives and dollars (especially when you can decrease it a ton by just waiting for a warmer day), but you don’t really have to get that lucky to sneak by.

    2. I think your guess is the only rational explanation for this Hazel. At the last minute they probably admitted the truth. But at that point the HHS people were terrified of telling Obama they were not going to work. So they just launched it and hoped for the best figuring they could fix it later.

      The higher you are in a debacle like this, generally the less information you have about how bad it is. So the top execs probably thought that even if it didn’t work, the problems could be fixed in a few days before much damage was done. When you have a dishonest management culture, only the people at the very tip of the spear ever have any idea just how bad things are.

    3. It’s also possible Obama and his higher-ups never even sat down for a demo. I wouldn’t put that past them at all. They ordered that it be done, and then walked away, assuming that because they ordered it, it would automatically happen.

      I can totally see these megalomaniacs doing that.

      1. Sometimes you have to go to market with the website you’ve got, not the website you want. Every other decision has been made with the political cost first. The Obama guys are always in campaign mode — just trying to survive this news cycle. They thought it would go away if they just kept blowing smoke.

        I’m not convinced they’re wrong, sadly.

        1. They live from news cycle to news cycle. Delaying it or admitting things were not working would have lost the news cycle. So they refused to do it figuring they could worry about the failure later.

      2. I seriously doubt that Obama would have the patience to endure a single example of a family signup on a mock-up of the Healthcare.gov site.

        It would be mindnumbingly boring going through the forty or so screens of data entry even if the mock-up had instantaneous response time.

    4. Or, the contractor told the administration that this was a tech demo, but the administration chose not to hear it. Then, the administration can publicly blame the contractor for any failures, while internally they will still think it is great to keep awarding contracts to that contractor.

  12. I am waiting for the insider accounts by the people who actually created the site. Sooner or later some of that will come out, probably anonymously.

  13. In California, Kaiser Permanente terminated policies for 160,000 people. In Florida, at least 300,000 people are losing coverage.

    That includes 56-year-old Dianne Barrette. Last month, she received a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield informing her as of January 2014, she would lose her current plan. Barrette pays $54 a month. The new plan she’s being offered would run $591 a month — 10 times more than what she currently pays.

    Barrette said, “What I have right now is what I am happy with and I just want to know why I can’t keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?”


    Maybe this woman and millions like her who are seeing their health insurance get much worse will blame the Republicans and the market and decide that her experience just proves that voting Democrat is the only way. But she doesn’t seem to think that way now. It looks to me like she is starting to realize she has been had. Again, maybe her response to being lied to will be “well we just haven’t given the Democrats enough of my support”. But, isn’t the opposite response at least possible?

    1. I just want to know why I can’t keep what I have. Why do I have to be forced into something else?

      Duh, because you don’t like what you have right now.

      1. That is right. And she is totally going to vote hard left D now because of Welfare and parasites and stuff. Really, she will.

    2. That includes 56-year-old Dianne Barrette.

      I watched a segment of KTLA last night where I heard that the ACA requires birth control coverage for post-menopausal women. You didn’t want that, Dianne?

  14. White House officials saw over the summer wasn’t actually a working product. It was a mock-up of the front-end interface with no functional back-end behind it.

    Wait, are we describing the website or the Obama administration?

  15. There should be a pdf out there somewhere titled something like “Plans and Specifications for the ACA Website”. 10 minutes of googling got me nowhere with that. Maybe it was an RFP: “Request for Proposal for the Implementation of the ACA User Interface”. Nothing.

    1. Maybe I have to buy this guy’s book.


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