Why didn’t they just use WordPress?
Of the 14 states running their own health insurance marketplaces, five â€” Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Colorado and Hawaii â€” decided to use WordPress to power their sites. Other markets, such as Illinois, which selected a federal partnership option, also tapped WordPress. Well these sites are far from perfect, they’ve performed much better than HealthCare.gov.
It didn’t have to be WordPress. It could have been Drupal, Joomla, or any other open-source tool. The question is: Why did the White House feel the need to invent their website from scratch?
That is the question bedeviling Peter Slutsky, theÂ director of platform services at Automattic (the company that created WordPress.com) and WordPress.com VIP, which provides solutions for enterprise and government organizations (including NASA and the British Government) that use the content management system.
“We would have liked to see WordPress in the mix, or another open-source technology like Drupal or Joomla,” Slutsky told POLITICO. “If you look at decisions that were made at the state level, states had choices about who to work with and an overwhelming majority of them used WordPress.”
Slutsky can’t promise that WordPress would have pre-empted all the problems facing HealthCare.gov, but he does believe that using an open-source tool would likely have made the problems bedeviling the site apparent before its launch.
“You don’t have these failures because you have hundreds of thousands of eyes that catch these things before they impede on performance,” he said.
Fred Wilson, the influential venture capitalist, has alsoÂ called on the White HouseÂ to open-source the project: “[I]nstead of hiring an army of contract developers who will cost us so much money, harness an army of volunteers, who are likely better engineers, who will do the work for free.”
Unfortunately for Slutsky and WIlson, the administration’s response toÂ HealthCare.gov’s failures has been, as Ezra Klein put itÂ Wednesday, “extraordinarily secretive.” The administration has promised a “tech surge” involvingÂ “some of the best IT talent in the entire country” to fix the problem, but discloses little information aboutÂ who’s involved and what’s being done. (HHS declined to comment.)
For Slutsky, this closed-door approach is the problem.
“The thing is, we don’t actually know for sure where the point of failure was in the process, so it’s hard to identify, at this moment, where things broke down,” he wrote in an email. “The government spent $500 (+/-) million on this website — that’s a lot of money to throw at a problem and the problem clearly wasn’t solved. Whoever was in charge of the process – the contractor(s), HHS, the White House, etc. did not properly load test or beta test the website before launch. That probably wasn’t a good idea when you’re rolling out something this large and this important.”
“WordPress is free, open source and flexible enough to power the majority of the state health care exchanges and upwards of 20% of the top 10 million websites on the planet,” he said. “With the exception of some small glitches (normal for software), the state health care exchanges function properly.”