Obama's Trauma Team

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

  • Share
  • Read Later
Photograph by Stephen Voss for TIME

(12 of 14)

After a slew of fixes on Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, and more on Thanksgiving morning, the team went to Park's house for turkey. Later that night, they returned to the office to execute still more releases while they shared pies brought in by Zients. On Sunday, Dec. 1, Zients issued a public report card showing the website's turnaround. A series of hardware upgrades had dramatically increased capacity; the system was now able to handle at least 50,000 simultaneous users and probably more. There had been more than 400 bug fixes. Uptimes had gone from an abysmal 43% at the beginning of November to 95%. And Kim and her team had knocked the error rate from 6% down to 0.5%. (By the end of January it would be below 0.5% and still dropping.) The press generally accepted the new numbers but questioned whether the site would be able to handle all the traffic expected ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline for people who wanted coverage effective on Jan. 1.

That was what Zients, Park and the rescue crew were worried about too. And yet through December, the numbers kept improving, helped by Kim's falling error rate and a group of new Dickerson recruits who either parachuted in for stays of a few weeks or, in some cases, vowed to stay until the close of enrollment at the end of March.

The team gathered at the command center early on Monday, Dec. 23, to see if what they had rebuilt could handle the traffic crush.

"I'll never forget that day for the rest of my life," says Park. "We'd been experiencing extraordinary traffic in December, but this was a whole new level of extraordinary ... By 9 o'clock traffic was the same as the peak traffic we'd seen in the middle of a busy December day. Then from 9 to 11, the traffic astoundingly doubled. If you looked at the graphs, it looked like a rocket ship."

Traffic rose to 65,000 simultaneous users, then to 83,000, the day's high point. The result: 129,000 enrollments on Dec. 23, about five times as many in a single day as what the site had handled in all of October. Because the sign-up deadline had been extended until Christmas Eve, Park and the team slept a few hours at the DoubleTree and came back at dawn. Traffic was again at levels never seen until the day before--and produced 93,000 more enrollments.

As it got later on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the band was starting to break up. Smith left early to spend the holiday with his wife and young daughter, whom he had not seen in weeks. Although he lived about 20 miles away in Baltimore, the commute had become an impossible luxury in the frantic weeks in the run-up to the deadline.

Before Smith left that night, he gave an impassioned speech about what a privilege it had been to work on the project and to work with this crew, and, says Park, "we all had a hug."

Later that night, Park talked by videophone to Dickerson's parents in Connecticut, thanking them for lending their son to the team.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13
  14. 14