House Republicans press OMB for details on its oversight of HealthCare.gov

Tuesday - 10/22/2013, 1:29pm EDT

House Republican lawmakers are pressing the administration's top technology leaders on the Office of Management and Budget's role in overseeing the development of HealthCare.gov.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and four other subcommittee chairmen, wrote to federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel and federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park Monday asking for a briefing and for documents by Nov. 4.

"As chief information officer and chief technology officer for the Obama administration, and as leading advocates of the OMB-led TechStat vetting and review process, you surely maintained significant involvement in the oversight and development of ObamaCare's critical IT infrastructure," the lawmakers wrote. "Given the information gathered by the committee thus far, we are concerned that the administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare's effect on increasing health insurance premiums. We believe that the political decision to mask the 'sticker shock' of ObamaCare to the American people prevented contractors from using universally accepted and OMB-advocated IT 'best practices' in the development and roll out of this massive federal government IT project."

The Affordable Care Act's website continues to be plagued by technology problems.

President Barack Obama yesterday said the administration is using a "tech surge" to improve the website.

"We've got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems. Experts from some of America's top private-sector tech companies who, by the way, have seen things like this happen before, they want it to work. They're reaching out. They're offering to send help. We've had some of the best IT talent in the entire country join the team," the President said. "[T] he problem has been that the website that's supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way it should for everybody. And there's no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow, people have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am — precisely because the product is good, I want the cash registers to work. I want the checkout lines to be smooth. So I want people to be able to get this great product. And there's no excuse for the problems, and these problems are getting fixed."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said today former OMB Deputy Director for Management and Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients is providing management advice and counsel to Department of Health and Human Services to help with the Affordable Care Act's roll out.

But House lawmakers are concerned the problems are more than just technology "glitches."

Oversight and Government Reform Committee leaders say interviews with HealthCare.gov contractors, including CGI, the lead systems integrator, allege White House officials told CGI and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid staff to make major changes to the system in late August or early September.

CMS hired CGI under a five-year, $93.7 million contract in September 2011 to develop HealthCare.gov.

"During a briefing with committee staff in January 2013, CGI officials expressed concern about a lack of coordination and an abundance of confusion between stakeholders involved in setting up the website," the letter stated. "CGI officials were also concerned about whether the website would be operational before the Oct. 1, 2013, deadline. Specifically, they conveyed to committee staff the need for more direction on 'budgetary and project governance.'"

Democratic House leaders responded to Issa's letter with a letter of their own.

Rep. Elijah E Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the oversight committee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, objected to the characterization in Issa's letter of an Oct. 16 meeting between CGI and committee staffs.

"Your letter suggests that CGI officials told Committee staff that White House officials were directly responsible for making technical decisions about the website, that these decisions were made for political reasons, and that these decisions resulted in delays and other problems with the website," the Democratic letter stated. "Your letter mischaracterizes the briefing we received and omits key information from CGI that directly contradicts your accusations."

Cummings and Connolly wrote that Issa's letter omitted statements from CGI officials that said they had no knowledge of what the White House's role was in making specific decisions related to the website.

"CGI officials also stated that they had seen no evidence of political considerations affecting operational decisions about the website," Cummings and Connolly's letter stated. "And when asked if they were aware of any political intervention by anyone at the White House, CGI officials answered, 'No, sir.'"