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The Obama administration’s failure to deliver a new health insurance website capable of handling the demands of millions of Americans has not only been costly to the President. It may also signal a failure to pull the U.S. government  into the digital age.

That’s the argument of Ezra Klein in a recent article for Businessweek.

After Barak Obama was elected he created positions for a chief information officer and a chief technology officer, Klein notes, and heavily pushed open government.

Yet somehow — arguably, inevitably given the complexity of the U.S. government and its historical partisanship — IT has not only failed to change the administration but also the ability to handle big projects that involve everything from information delivery to analytics.

In the latest news, healthcare.gov, the Obamacare health insurance marketplace site that went live Oct. 1, went down again Saturday night for 12 more hours of maintenance. It will be closed daily from 1 am. to 5 p.m. Eastern for improvements.

Dozens of workers from Google, Oracle and Red Hat have been hired to improve the site’s reliability and scale in hopes of meeting an Nov. 30 promise that the site will meet the demands of most Americans.

One person Klein quotes says the problem is IT people in the U.S. government are too conservative, too afraid of failure to handle complex software projects the private sector can take on.

I’m not so sure of that. There are lots of reports of private sector IT projects that fail to meet their objectives.

He also quotes another expert who says these days there are only two voices overseeing many U.S. government services: security and procurement. No one speaks for the importance of usability.

It’s a telling point. In an era where staff and consumers have access to big data, usability is more important than ever.

Read the full article here.

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