How to fix healthcare.gov

How to fix healthcare.gov (LA Times/David Horsey / November 4, 2013)

If we could get NSA hackers to go to work on the Obamacare website, health care for every American would be delivered before Christmas.

At least, it seems as if that would be the case. The folks who brought us HealthCare.gov cannot seem to keep the site from freezing up and shunting people seeking insurance coverage to a virtual waiting room with no doors. Meanwhile, the cyberspies at the National Security Agency are apparently smart enough to break into the telephones and electronic communications of every head of state from Berlin to Rio.

Why does one set of government techies seem as smart as Q, James Bond's gadgets guy, and another set seem as knuckle-headed as Dwight Schrute on "The Office?" Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein may have found the answer.

"The same government that reportedly intercepted the communications of America's leading consumer technology firms, Google and Yahoo, without leaving a trace is scorned because it can't build a working federal website for health insurance," Mr. Borenstein writes. The fallacy, he says, is to equate the two jobs. Hacking is one thing, building a website is quite another. Both are complex, but one is just a lot more fun.

The fun job is with the NSA. The spy agency is working with a nearly bottomless budget and high tech specialists who are the best in the business. The NSA gets the best because the work is engaging and exotic. Website construction? Not so much.

"Breaking in, it feels like special ops," Chris Wysopal, a former hacker, told Mr. Borenstein. "Building something feels probably like you're in the Corps of Engineers. You're just moving a lot of dirt around."

Those dirt movers working on the Obamacare site are simply not the same caliber as the whiz kids at the NSA. That's why the federal government has had a devil of a time getting you signed up for a health plan that you want, but can keep a file of every phone call you make and every message you send, even if you would rather they didn't.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.