Can Silicon Valley save the Obamacare site?

October 31, 2013

(Mark Lennihan / AP)

High-profile companies like Google, Oracle and Red Hat are donating their engineering talent to President Obama in response to his administration's call for a "tech surge" that would fix the embattled Obamacare Web site.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday that Google's Michael Dickerson, a site reliability engineer who's on temporary leave, will be aiding QSSI, one of the initial contractors for HealthCare.gov. Meanwhile, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow named Greg Gershman has signed on with CGI, the Canadian company widely said to be responsible for the botched project.

Gershman has some experience in making government more accessible to people. He was part of a team that in 2010 began designing a search engine interface that could be applied across various government Web sites to produce a consistent search experience. A couple of years later, Gershman worked on a single-sign on solution allowing visitors to log in just once to access a range of federal portals. The initiative, called Project MyGov, also aimed to help agencies create forms that could be turned into APIs.

Fixing the Obamacare site, though, could be these engineers' biggest project yet. The government has already turned to Verizon's enterprise division for help, and according to The Hill, Microsoft also offered its assistance, though it's unclear whether the Department of Health and Human Services ultimately accepted it.

As recently as last week, the Web site was proven to have a glaring security flaw that would have allowed a determined attacker to steal customer information such as usernames and e-mail addresses.

HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius pledged Wednesday that the site would be back up and running by the end of November. But it's conceivable that throwing even more manpower at the problem might hurt rather than help.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · October 31, 2013