Obama's Trauma Team

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

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Photograph by Stephen Voss for TIME

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Also weighing in by this time on the phone and through chat lines was another Silicon Valley legend recruited by Zients who also happened to be named Abbott. Marty Abbott had been the CTO of eBay and now ran a consulting business that offered high-tech crisis management and evaluation. Venture funds pay him "tens of thousands of dollars a day," says Zients, to kick the tires, hard, of potential companies seeking their money, and the companies themselves hire him when their websites or other technology crash.

"It was pretty obvious from the first look that the system hadn't been designed to work right," says Marty Abbott. "It was not really managed at all and wasn't architected to scale. For example, any single thing that slowed down would slow everything down."

Marty Abbott volunteered his time, which was limited to participation in multiple conference calls in the first few weeks of the salvage effort. Mike Abbott was also a volunteer; he stayed in the D.C. area until Oct. 25, then participated through December on conference calls, sometimes doing two or three a day.

As for Dickerson, Burt and the others who arrived for what they thought was a few days only to stay eight to 10 weeks, they were told that government regulations did not allow them, even though they offered, to be volunteers if they worked for any sustained period. So they were put on the payroll of contractor QSSI as hourly workers, making what Dickerson says was "a fraction" of his Google pay.

The day after their first breakthrough with the caching, Dickerson and the rest of the team gave Zients and Park their verdict: they could fix the site by the end of November, six weeks away, so that "the vast majority" of visitors could go on and enroll. "I was, like, never worried," Dickerson adds. "It's just a website. We're not going to the moon."

A few hours later on the afternoon of Oct. 23, Zients and McDonough told the President the news. According to Zients, the President "pressure-tested the decision," putting them through a series of questions related to why they thought they could make that deadline. Then he signed off on it. There was one further irony: the general contractor Zients and Park had chosen to coordinate things, they told the President, was QSSI, which had handled some of the more successful functions of the ailing website. Andy Slavitt, a top executive from another unit of QSSI's parent company--UnitedHealth Group, the giant insurer--would be called in to run the QSSI team. Which meant that the largest player in an industry that had vehemently opposed Obamacare in 2010 was now about to take a lead role in saving it. And profiting from it.

4. Stand-Ups And Hiccups

It was in a 4,000-sq.-ft. room rented by QSSI in a nondescript office park in Columbia, Md.--lined with giant Samsung TV monitors showing the various dashboard readings and graphs--that Barack Obama's health care website was saved. What saved it were Mikey Dickerson's stand-ups.

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