Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current, events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
“We fixed it! We fixed it!” chortled Howard Bashford, dancing around his office in the White House basement.
His office isn’t actually in the White House. It’s way out on New Hampshire Avenue, near the S Street Dog Park. But the folks who work in this “annex” are, technically, White House staffers. So they refer to their basement quarters as part of the executive mansion.
Anyway, we had dropped by to see our old friend, and there he was, literally jumping up and down and clicking his heels together.
“Fixed what?” I asked as I walked in, and he stopped cavorting.
“Why, the Affordable Care Act website, of course,” he said. “Few people know it, but I’ve been in charge of repairing it, since its … uh … imperfect unveiling October first.
“The site now will handle 800,000 people at a time! It’s a great success.”
“What do you mean by ‘handle’?” we asked. “I heard a lot of people get logged on, but can get no further.”
“That’s the wonder of it,” Howard replied. “They can get logged on! And (here he clapped his hands with joy) if they can’t get any further, they can wait! We have a special waiting queue – which is pronounced ‘kew,’ in spite of the spelling – and they can wait in a cyberspace ‘line.’
“Can you think of anything more exciting than waiting in cyberspace?”
We allowed that we could think of more diverting “places” to be, which seemed to bring Howard down a bit.
“Well, if that doesn’t excite you,” he said, “perhaps you’d at least congratulate me on the fact the site now works for the ‘vast majority.’”
Asked to define “vast majority,” he replied, “Anything over 50 percent is vast as far as we’re concerned. And besides that, the site is up 90 percent of the time now – except when we take it down for maintenance.”
“Doesn’t that mean that with crashes it’s down more than 10 percent of the time?” we asked mildly. “And besides that, it has been reported that something like 35 percent of those who do get through to purchase insurance can’t be sure they’ve actually signed up.”
“You’re one of those ‘glass-half-empty’ guys, aren’t you?” Howard said, pouting. “Look, if only 35 percent are experiencing errors, that means 65 percent aren’t experiencing errors. That’s a success, because we get to define success.”
“How about the security – or insecurity – problem?” I asked. “Real experts say people should stay off the website, because their personal information could be accessed by hackers – and rather easily, at that.”
“All that information already has been hacked by the NSA,” said Howard tartly. “So why worry about it?”
I suggested that any computer-based business that couldn’t secure client information and had a 35 percent error rate would soon be out of business, but Howard had a ready answer.
“That’s the beauty of it,” he said. “We aren’t a business; we’re government, and that means we don’t have to be perfect, or even close to perfect. We just have to mean well and try real hard. We probably mean well, and we are trying real hard.”
This impelled me to ask how much the repair of the website was going to cost – over the original $634 million outlay.
“The precise figures aren’t available,” Howard responded. “We may have them ready for release the Friday after Christmas.
“Besides, we’re government. It doesn’t matter what it costs, as long as we eventually get it right. And we will get it right.”
“OK, Howard,” we said, “what will happen when you get it right and millions of Americans can access the site and find out what their health insurance will cost?”
Howard looked about furtively and whispered, “That’s when the real trouble begins.”