White House considering options after Issa subpoenaes federal CTO Park

Monday - 11/11/2013, 12:47pm EST

Federal technology and procurement processes will come under the microscope Wednesday on Capitol Hill in the wake of the HealthCare.gov debacle. But it's unclear whether a key figure in the portal's oversight will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

After the White House refused a request to let federal chief technology officer Todd Park testify, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued a subpoena Friday to compel him to show up.

"Your unwillingness to appear before the committee continues an unfortunate pattern of the current administration when it comes to matters of transparency and Congressional oversight," Issa wrote to Park. "Millions of Americans have lost their health insurance and are rapidly approaching the point where they must begin to prepare for the possibility of having no health insurance on Jan. 1, 2014. They deserve your sworn testimony before their elected representatives about what went wrong — not simply the media outlets that White House officials have deemed an appropriate use of your time away from working on the website project. Reliable testimony about the status of efforts to address problems with HealthCare.gov is highly relevant to ongoing concerns about security vulnerabilities, as well as legislative proposals Congress is currently considering that would allow Americans to keep individual insurance plans cancelled because of Obamacare regulations."

The White House is permitting federal chief information officer Steve VanRoekel to testify, along with Frank Baitman, the Department of Health and Human Services' CIO, and Henry Chao, deputy CIO and deputy director of the Office of Information Services for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Government Accountability Office's director of IT management issues David Powner also is scheduled to appear before the committee.

White House: Subpoena "unnecessary"

"This is an unfortunate and unnecessary step since we made clear several times that Todd Park is willing to testify," said a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy. "We had hoped the committee would work with us to find an alternative date to give Todd time to focus on the immediate task at hand: getting the website fixed. We are reviewing the subpoena and will respond as appropriate."

The White House has a few choices, including letting Park testify or invoking executive privilege, which is based on the separation of powers doctrine. The Supreme Court ruled on the use of Executive Privilege in 1974 when President Richard Nixon refused to provide audiotapes of conversations about the Watergate burglary.

The Obama administration used this tactic when Issa's committee asked for documents related to the Justice Department's Fast and the Furious program.

The White House is not objecting to Park testifying, but prefers to find a date in December after the administration said it would be finished fixing the problems with HealthCare.gov.

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to Issa today asking him to withdraw the subpoena and let Park testify in December.

"The evidence before our committee demonstrates that Mr. Park is an honest and exemplary public servant, and your unsubstantiated public attacks against his integrity are a deficient basis on which to justify a subpoena against him," the letter stated. "Based on the totality of these actions, it appears that your subpoena to Mr. Park was part of a predetermined political strategy rather than a constructive effort to conduct responsible oversight. Unfortunately, rather than promoting improvements to the HealthCare.gov website, your subpoena could have precisely the opposite effect."

In addition to push back from committee Democrats, the technology community launched a website and petition drive — Lettoddwork.org — against forcing Park to testify instead of helping to fix the website.

As of Monday around noon, 569 people had signed the petition requesting Issa to withdraw his subpoena.

Issa's interest in the Office of Management and Budget's oversight of HealthCare.gov isn't new. In early October, Issa asked VanRoekel and Park for documents and to schedule a briefing by Nov. 4

President Barack Obama and VanRoekel have both said recently that the problems with the Affordable Care Act portal need to lead to changes in how agencies buy technology.

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