When 200 of CGI Federal’s top managers gathered at the luxurious Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania on a brisk day in early November 2009, they found time for business — and high jinks.
During the two-day event, managers presented PowerPoint slides celebrating the phenomenal success of CGI Federal, a major technology contractor, in winning lucrative government contracts. Most attendees stayed in the resort’s Chateau Lafayette hotel, a replica of the Ritz-Carlton in Paris, and at a formal dinner under the elaborate chandelier in the ballroom, George D. Schindler, the president of CGI Federal, spoke of the company’s big profits that year and its bright future.
The fun came during a team-building exercise following a boozy lunch in conference rooms not far from the hotel’s Lady Luck casino. Managers were split off into small groups and asked to solve math-laden riddles. For each correct answer, they received a bicycle part. The goal was for the teams, around 20 or so, to assemble children’s pink and blue bicycles, then race their tasseled bikes up and down the carpeted corridors of the hotel.
“People were riding these bikes drunk through the hallways of the resort,” recalls one former manager who attended the event, while others were “duck-walking” the children’s bikes, which were too small for most adults to sit on. Amid “a lot of hooting and hollering,” the manager recalls, the hotel staff was laughing. “Some people were bombed out of their minds until 2 a.m. It was greed and opulence, and it was on the taxpayers’ dime.”
He was wrong about one thing: taxpayers didn’t pay directly for the event for CGI Federal, the American arm of Montreal-based CGI Group that is known these days as the main company behind the glitch-plagued Healthcare.gov website, the engine of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Through a lucrative government contract, CGI Federal is the principal contractor assigned the daunting job of building the federal online insurance marketplace — a large, complex website intended to help millions of ordinary Americans obtain health insurance that instead has become a byword for technological failure.
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