The PJ Tatler

Oversight Focus: What Do Tech Firms Know About Fixes, Why Did Admin Hide Price Comparisons

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent letters to Verizon Enterprise Inc., Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Expedia today as “the first of an ongoing inquiry” to find out their level of involvement in the fixing of Healthcare.gov.

The original contractor on the project was CGI, Canada’s largest tech company and a powerful lobbying force in Washington.

The Obama administration hasn’t detailed what exactly is behind the problems of users not able to sign up on the Obamacare exchange, but said it’s “bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government” to solve it.

“Despite the President’s assertion that ‘we’re well into a “tech surge”’ neither the White House nor HHS is providing additional details about which private sector companies have been engaged or whether they are being engaged through the appropriate procurement processes,” Issa writes.

The chairman is asking companies for all communication between the companies and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Management and Budget, or President Obama’s office about the site.

“The Committee seeks your company’s cooperation in an effort to obtain important information about the problems plaguing HealthCare.gov and efforts to address them that the Administration has so far refused to divulge,” the letter states.

Issa asked the companies to respond no later than Friday.

Yesterday, Issa was digging for information from Obama’s tech officials about why, just one month before the website’s launch, the administration directed contractors to change the site’s design to hide price comparisons from unregistered shoppers.

“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,” the letter to Steve VanRoekel, the Chief Information Officer, and Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer, at the White House Office of Management and Budget, states. “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. When prudent design and programming decisions are subordinated to politics, the result is the chaotic mess we have today.”

“CGI officials told Committee staff that CMS officials and employees constantly mentioned the ‘White House’ when discussing matters with CGI.  For example, CMS officials would routinely state: ‘this is what the White House wants,’” the letter continues. “Moreover, CGI officials told Committee staff that the ability to shop for health insurance without registering for an account – a central design feature of the health insurance exchange – was removed ‘in late August or early September.’”

“Although, CGI officials were not able to identify who within the Administration made the decision to disable the anonymous shopping feature, evidence is mounting that political considerations motivated the decision.”