The massively dysfunctional healthcare.gov Obamacare website is nothing to brag about, but Teal Media, the "full-service digital design agency" that developed it, has gone a step further. On October 17, it "took down all reference to its work on HealthCare.gov 'in consultation' with the [Obama] administration," BuzzFeed reports.
"Visit the website of Michigan-based design firm Teal Media today," writes Evan McMorris-Santoro,
and you’d never know designers there helped create HealthCare.gov, the troubled online portal for Obamacare.
Just a few days ago, the site looked very different. Teal Media’s homepage featured its work on Obamacare prominently, placing a link to the firm’s work on one of the most well-known websites in America front and center. Now that link, as well as the page devoted to Teal’s work on HealthCare.gov, have [sic] been removed.
Not only did Teal flush all written reference to their Obamacare work down the memory hole, but they don't even want to talk about the website they worked on for more than three years and got paid tens of millions of tax dollars for.
A woman who answered the phone at the company’s headquarters immediately referred BuzzFeed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) before a single question was asked. CMS is listed as Teal’s client on the firm’s now-erased HealthCare.gov page.
When asked about the changed content on the Teal Media site, the woman said that was done ‘in consultation with HHS,” and again referred a reporter to CMS.
A CMS spokesperson declined to comment on the record.
The very day after BuzzFeed's report, all that deleted content miraculously reappeared on Teal's website. "Teal Media put Heathcare.Gov references back on their website following this report," BuzzFeed noted in an update. "The firm did not respond to a request for comment on the changes."
Qualified at what?
According to content on the firm's website and founder Jessica Teal's LinkedIn page, her firm may well have been chosen more for political than website development qualifications.
Before becoming a big-time crony capitalism entrepreneur, Teal was design manager for the 2008 Obama campaign website, in charge of "the official campaign website and microsites, web/email-based fundraising campaigns, state and constituency literature, large-scale signage and event materials, and special projects," her LinkedIn profile says.
And her company's client list – comprising the Democratic National Committee, EMILY's List, the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission – is more a who's who of party politics than of the free market.
If it's so wonderful, why doesn't it work?
In a June 28 article also secretly deleted from and then restored to the Teal website, The Atlantic magazine praised the healthcare.gov website – lavishly and, as it turned out, prematurely extolling it as "the rarest of birds: a next-generation website that also happens to be a .gov...That's a huge win for the American people."
The new Healthcare.gov will fill a yawning gap in the technology infrastructure deployed to support the mammoth law, providing a federal choice engine for the more than 30 different states that did not develop their own health-insurance exchanges, but the site is just one component of the insurance exchanges. Others may not be ready by the October deadline... [but d]espite all this, HHS expressed confidence to the GAO that exchanges will be open and functioning in every state on October 1. [emphasis added]
...[W]here this story gets especially interesting, if you're interested in how government uses technology to deliver information to the people it serves.
Where it went is where too many government projects have gone before.
"Government websites have not, historically, been sterling examples of design or usability," Alex Howard unwittingly prophesied. "Unfortunately, in many cases, they're also built at great expense, given the dependence of government agencies on contractors and systems integrators, and use technologies that are years behind the rest of the web." Sound familiar? The latest news on healthcare.gov is that one of its many defects is the ten-year-old software it's built with.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day
Perhaps because it's a general statement, there's one thing that the Atlantic article managed to get right.
"How a website is built or designed may seem mundane to many people," they wrote, "but when the site in question is focused upon such an important function, what it looks like and how it works matter." [original emphasis]
Because that does matter so much, it's no wonder that Teal Media chose to, as the Mission:Impossible taped instructions say, "disavow any knowledge of [its own] actions."
One other similarity between that tape and Teal's healthcare.gov website: Both were designed to "self-destruct in ten seconds."