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October 22, 2013

Obama: 'No excuse' for health care signup problems

(Continued)

Obama stopped short of apologizing for the failures, saying instead that “nobody is more frustrated than me.”

Even as he spoke, more problems came to light. The administration acknowledged that a planned upgrade to the website had been postponed indefinitely and that online Spanish-language signups would remain unavailable, despite a promise to Hispanic groups that the capability would start this week.

The White House said additional technology experts from both inside and outside the government are being brought in to work on the failures.

Administration officials initially blamed heavy website traffic for the frozen computer screens that many people encountered when they first logged on. Since then, they have also acknowledged shortcomings with software and some elements of the system’s design, although the administration has yet to fully detail exactly what went wrong with the online system and who was responsible for the problems.

It appears the problems were well-known to some of those designing the system. One developer said that in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 1 launch, he and his colleagues huddled in conference rooms trying to patch deficiencies in computer code.

“It was an extremely tight deadline,” said the developer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was told not to talk to the news media about his work.

A review of internal structural diagrams obtained by AP also revealed the complexity of the system. The diagrams show that applicants must submit at least 50 pieces of personal information, including income and immigration status. That data is then connected to at least eight distinct federal computer systems, including the Social Security Administration and the Peace Corps.

The schematics from late 2012 show how officials preferred a “data services hub” — a traffic cop of sorts for managing information — instead of a setup that would have allowed state exchanges to connect directly to government servers when verifying an applicant’s information.

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