Obama's Trauma Team

How an unlikely group of high-tech wizards revived Obama's troubled HealthCare.gov website

Photograph by Stephen Voss for TIME

Last Oct. 17 — more than two weeks after the launch of HealthCare.gov — White House press secretary Jay Carney was going through what one senior Obama aide calls "probably the most painful press briefing we've ever seen." Pressed repeatedly on when the site would be fixed, the best he could say was that "they are making improvements every day."

"They" were, in fact, not making improvements, except by chance, much as you or I might reboot or otherwise play with a laptop to see if some shot in the dark somehow fixes a snafu. Yet barely six weeks later, HealthCare.gov was working well and on its way to working even better.

This is the story of a team of unknown — except in elite technology circles — coders and troubleshooters who dropped what they were doing in various enterprises across the country and came together in mid-October to save the website. In about a tenth of the time that a crew of usual-suspect, Washington contractors had spent over $300 million building a site that didn't work, this ad hoc team rescued it and, arguably, Obama's chance at a health-reform legacy.