A team of tech experts tackling the glitch-ridden federal health insurance website has found a batch of problems affecting both the speed of the site and its reliability, the head of the rescue effort said Friday.
But despite two “extremely frustrating” outages that slowed everyone down this past week, the site’s on track to be working smoothly by the end of November, management expert Jeff Zients told reporters.
“There are two broad categories of fixes,” Zients said on a conference call. One has been affecting responsiveness, or speed of performance, and the other involves true glitches that might show up as screens that don’t make sense or blank screens.
The team of experts, which includes tech whizzes on loan from companies such as Google, Red Hat and Oracle, has punched through the issues one by one and improved the speed of pages loading by 80 percent, Zients said.
“Response time is how fast the system responds to user requests,” he added. During the first few weeks, it took an average of eight seconds to load a page. “Clearly, that is an absolutely unacceptable amount of time.”
Now it’s down to about a second. “This is a more than 80 percent improvement,” Zients said. And they’re working to get it even faster.
Zients has set up four teams to work on the site, whose poor performance has been a major embarrassment to the Obama administration and the subject of three hearings in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The overall contractor, QSSI, is helping fix both hardware and software problems. There’s an application and software team tackling the glitches and smoothing out the site’s performance, an infrastructure team working on capacity and disruptions, a security team and a fourth team monitoring the process and troubleshooting.
Two big outages this past week threw the work off a little but hasn’t affected the deadline, Zients said.
“Unfortunately as you know, we hit a frustrating roadblock this week with hardware problems at the Verizon data canter that hosts the site,” Zients said., stating that it’s been fixed and more hardware updates will be made over the weekend.
“But make no mistake, the hardware failure was a setback and extremely frustrating.”
Zients, who will start work early next year as the chief White House economic adviser, declined to characterize how bad the problems are or if it was an expected number or range of issues for a website of this size. “We are focused on moving forward and improving the site,” he said.
An administration official also declined to comment on the release of notes by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that showed just six people were able to actually sign up for health insurance the first day the site went up.
“Those are notes. Those are not official documents on enrollment numbers or otherwise,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which operates the site.
Bataille says CMS will release official figures by the middle of November. At last count, about 700,000 people had gotten at least partway through the process but those numbers have not been updated in recent days.
“If the implication from this disclosure is that the website wasn't working effectively on Oct. 1, I think that is a dog-bites-man story,” White House spokesman Jay Carney added in a briefing.
NBC's Mike O'Brien contributed
First published November 1 2013, 12:11 PM