Bad Government Software

Why is so much software so bad? There are lots of reasons. Writing good software is hard to begin with.* Big, custom projects are unique by definition, so they are sold as promises, not as finished products. Every vendor promises the same thing, so the one who promises to do it at the lowest cost often wins; when the project turns out late, bad, and over budget, too many executives have too much invested in its success to admit defeat. Consulting firms, which bill by the hour, make money by staffing projects with lots of people at relatively low cost, which is absolutely the wrong way to develop software; the productivity differentials in software are so vast that you can often get ten times as much output (of quality software) for less than twice the price, while a bad developer will do more harm than good to a project.

The Baseline Scenario

By James Kwak

Ezra Klein, one of the biggest supporters of Obamacare the statute, has already called the launch of Obamacare a “disaster,” and it looks like things are now getting worse: as people are actually able to buy insurance, the data being passed to health insurers are riddled with errors (something Klein anticipated), in effect requiring applications to be verified over the phone. Bad software is one of my bloggingsidelights, so I wanted to find out who built this particular example, and I found Farhad Manjoo’s WSJ column, which fingered CGI, a big old IT consulting firm (meaning that they do big, custom, software development projects, mainly for big companies). (See here for more on CGI.)

CGI was a distant competitor of my old company. I don’t recall facing them head-to-head in any deals (although my memory could be failing me), but they claimed…

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