What's underneath the "debacle" of HealthCare.gov? It isn't that the site was less than ready for prime time. It isn't that communications have been full of static. It isn't that project responsibility has been multi-layered. It isn't that the task itself is mind-blowing in complexity. Yes, those are mighty important concerns, but the "debacle" is greater even than the sum of them.
The "debacle" is that we position information technology as a derivative of our current politics. In this case, politics has imposed deadlines, policy complexities, a suspicious eye on the workforce, and budgeting hiccups on to HealthCare.gov. Added together, any serious leader would agree that the project was going to run into the wall.
What we are missing is strategy. IT needs to be a derivative of strategy, not of whiplash politics. Good, high performing IT requires investing, designing, building, and nurturing. It needs to fit into larger goals and be positioned to create synergies (i.e. additional energy and capability) from which the next round of effort can benefit. If HealthCare.gov were derived from strategy, we would be in a very different place. The project would have balanced better the problem of schedule vs. quality, for example. It would have included stakeholders more naturally and they would have been invested in, rather than surprised by, the roll-out. It would have emerged from a longer history of innovation and transparency, affording it more creative approaches for meshing databases.
However, ask any IT professional in the government or in the federal contracting realm, "Whassup?" You will hear about how IT is not understood, is fenced off, and is burdened by the past rather than enlightened by the future. You will hear how IT strategy is mostly about squeezing the next critical fixes from the budgets and haggling over contracts. IT is rarely treated strategically and snugly positioned inside an institutional strategy for the future.
In other words, strategic IT is a challenge in and of itself. Compounding IT with political source-code yields sub-par government. HealthCare.gov is a "debacle" because of our confusion about how IT can help our nation. Let's stop making it a derivative of politics and, instead, treat it is a derivative of strategy.