Once upon a time, Senator Harry Truman held the feet of wartime contractors to the fire, charging them of profiteering from producing the “arsenal of democracy” during World War II in hearings broadcast to the nation. Today, the scandal is not a warship that isn’t seaworthy, a plane that doesn’t fly, or rotten food. It’s a website, Healthcare.gov, that has not delivered on its mission of enabling millions of Americans to browse and enroll in health insurance plans.
The debacle is merely the most visible example of how $80 billion spent annually by the federal government on information technology falls far short of delivering the quality or service any private company would expect at a fraction of that cost.
And while this is the first time many Americans have become aware of the issues that pervade federal IT architecture, it’s hardly the first time that a federal government IT project has run far over cost and then not worked particularly well. In the wake of the botched launch, opponents of the Affordable Care Act are blaming the federal government itself, suggesting that this just simply shows the government cannot deliver on a project. But they would be wrong to do so.