House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. ()
WASHINGTON — The problems with HealthCare.gov are the fault of “bad management decisions made by policy officials” in the Obama administration, says the federal government’s top technology officer under President George W. Bush.
“HealthCare.gov was a classic IT project failure that happens in the federal government too frequently,” said Karen Evans in testimony prepared for Wednesday’s hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the information technology failures behind the website’s Oct. 1 launch.
“They did this to themselves,” she said. “And if they are now surprised, it is because their own policy officials failed to inform them of the decisions they had made and the consequences associated with those decisions.”
Evans, who was not on the committee’s original witness list, provided a direct indictment of the Obama administration’s implementation of the federally run insurance exchanges. Also scheduled to testify at the Wednesday hearing are top IT officials at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Among them: Todd Park, the government’s chief technology officer, whose very appearance before the committee was contentious. Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., issued a subpoena for Park after he initially declined an invitation, saying the timing was “disruptive.” Democrats accused Issa of intentionally trying to derail Park’s efforts to fix the website.
“Unfortunately, the experience on HealthCare.gov has been highly frustrating for many Americans. These problems are unacceptable,” Park said in prepared testimony. He said officials are working around the clock to make fixes. “We have much work still to do, but are making progress at a growing rate,” he said.
One key issue for the committee is the decision not to allow “window shopping” by website users who weren’t registered on the site.
That policy decision, Evans said, led to a “bottleneck at the front end” and thousands of users simultaneously tried to create accounts. Evans said she wouldn’t speculate on why that decision was made.
But Issa has accused the White House of deliberately burying pricing information in order to avoid “sticker shock” by customers.
In earlier closed-door testimony before the committee, a career official involved in the implementation denied any political considerations. Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the government disabled the anonymous shopper function because “it wasn’t ready.”
In his prepared testimony Wednesday, Chao noted that the administration started allowing anonymous shopping Oct. 10, and that it plans to expand the functionality in the future.
He said the website can now process nearly 17,000 registrants per hour with almost no errors.