McKinsey warned senior govt. officials of problems

More than five months prior to the disastrous launch of, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, CMS head Marilyn Tavenner, and White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park all attended briefings that warned them of impending problems. McKinsey & Company, arguably the most prestigious (and expensive) consulting firm in the world*. The prescient warnings throw into doubt some of the testimony to Congress delivered under oath about officials' awareness of technology issues. Juliet Eilperin and Sandhya Somashekhar of the Washington Post report:

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who chairs the panel's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said the presentation suggests that, in the run-up to its fall debut, the enrollment system was more troubled than administration officials have let on.

"Despite assurances from Secretary Sebelius, Marilyn Tavenner and [CMS official] Gary Cohen that all was well and on track with the launch of the Affordable Care Act, we now have documents dating back to April that call into question the assertions made to this committee," Murphy said.

McKinsey's review highlighted the management issues that hobbled the project:

The consulting firm suggested that some of the project's troubles occurred because there was "no single empowered decision-making authority," or person in charge, who could make changes or define what constituted success.

One industry source close to the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter frankly, said this lack of an overarching project leader complicated the system's development because contractors received "absolutely conflicting direction between the various entities within CMS."

McKinsey suggested some ways to mitigate the risk, including creating a "version 1.0" that was fully tested before the project was finished and assigning a single leader to oversee its implementation. It urged federal officials to set "shared metrics for success" on April 12, more than five months before the rollout.

The administration did not develop metrics to evaluate the site's performance until late October, The Post reported Sunday.

As I have written before, contempt for the value of good management is deeply ingrained in the progressive movement, and nobody better epitomizes this blindness than Barack Obama, who never ran anything prior to becoming president. It is entirely unsurprising that the officials who were warned by McKinsey ignored the findings and pressed ahead. It is becoming clear that the response of Obama and Valerie Jarrett was to tell aides to "make it happen" as if an imperial decree itself would eliminate obstacles as if by magic.

*full disclosure: I received a job offer from McKinsey when I graduated from Harvard Business School in 1976, and was flown at their expense to a partner's meeting in the Bahamas.