White House tech expert: HealthCare.com getting better

Posted on: 12:14 pm, November 13, 2013, by

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In Wednesday’s hearing of the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa asked the administration’s technology chief, Todd Park, if the HealthCare.gov website “will work by November 30.” Park did not respond with a definitive yes or no. He said that “the team is working incredibly hard to meet that goal.”

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(CNN) — A testy exchange between GOP Rep. Darrell Issa and Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper occurred 2 hours and 10 minutes after the start of Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing. Cooper likened the hearing to a kangaroo court. Issa called that a serious accusation. “This is not a partisan hearing. I will not have it accused of a partisan hearing,” Issa said. Cooper proceeded to say “this is a hearing on a broken website by a broken committee.” Cooper than allowed the witnesses to speak their minds. Administration tech officer Henry Chao did not shy from the opportunity and said he gets defensive during testimony when things that are said are “not the truth.”

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In a fragmented back-and-forth between Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and administration tech officer Henry Chao in Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing, Jordan pointed to a politicized report by MITRE that said “end to end” security testing was not done prior to the launch of HealthCare.gov, “putting at risk American’s personal information.” Chao said the report’s statement was being “taken out of context.” David Powner, director of information technology management issues at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, attempted to clarify the discussion between Chao and Jordan, saying “the security testing was done early on an incomplete system. The fundamental question is what is being done now and is that adequate to date.”

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(CNN) — In response to questions by D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton about the anonymous shopping component of HealthCare.gov, Chao said the decision to drop that aspect of the website was made because “it failed so miserably we could not consciously let people use it.” The “anonymous shopping” aspect of HealthCare.gov would have allowed potential consumers shop for health insurance plans without signing in and creating an account. Republicans have insisted that the decision to do away with the anonymous shopping came from the White House and was made for political reasons. Chao’s statement contradicts that assessment. But in response to his explanation, Issa, the committee chairman, expressed skepticism, saying “we’ll see.”

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(CNN) — The administration’s technology chief, Todd Park, testifying before a House committee Wednesday, said improvements have been made to the website HealthCare.gov so that up to 17,000 people can register and up to 25,000 people can access the system each hour.

He said that’s an improvement over the number of users able to access the site on October 1, the day the HealthCare.gov went live. However, it is still well below the administration’s goal of increasing capacity to at least 50,000 people per hour.

Park is one of several government information technology officers testifying Wednesday before the Republican-led House Oversight Committee, which is holding a hearing on the technology behind the troubled Affordable Care Act website, HealthCare.gov, the federal portal for signing up for health insurance under the act.

In the first hour of the hearing, both Park and Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the problems with the website “unacceptable.”

During his opening statement, the chairman of the committee, Darrell Issa, R-California, said HealthCare.gov “wasn’t a small mistake.” He said it went “live and effectively exploded on the launch pad.”

“The President should have known,” Issa added, “They weren’t ready. They weren’t close to ready.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said in his opening statement that the hearing is motivated by politics and Republicans have no intention of working on a solution to ensure the Affordable Care Act is successful.

“For the past three years, the number one priority has been to bring down this law,” Cummings said, referencing the recent government shutdown and repeated attempts by Republicans in the House to repeal or defund the law.

Subpoena

The politics around the hearing had reached fever pitch Tuesday.

Park was subpoenaed last week by Issa, after the White House balked at a request for his voluntary immediate appearance because he is leading the team working feverishly to fulfill a promise that by the end of the month problems will be eliminated on HealthCare.gov.

Issa insisted Park appear immediately to explain why the website wasn’t ready by its October 1 launch to adequately handle inquiries and enrollment.

In a last-minute announcement, the White House decided to allow him to appear before the committee.

The subpoena sparked a group of technology professionals with ties to the White House to launch an online petition demanding Park be left to work on the website.

“LetToddWork” had almost 1,300 signatures late Tuesday.

The site’s problems have been a major early policy and political setback for Obama on this issue, but the administration says it is working aggressively to fix it and should have it working smoothly for most people by month’s end.

It was unclear whether the administration would comply with Issa’s subpoena until an official in the Office of Science and Technology Policy said late on Tuesday that Park would appear.

Not if, but when

“Administration officials have testified at numerous committee interviews and briefings, and have testified at more than two dozen congressional hearings over the last few months, including four in the last two weeks,” Rick Weiss, an analyst and spokesman for the science office, said in a written statement.

Weiss called the subpoena “an unfortunate and unnecessary step” given their willingness for Park to appear eventually before the panel.

“It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when,” Weiss said. “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, a goal ostensibly shared by the very House Republicans insisting on his appearance on Wednesday.”

Two Democrats on the Oversight Committee asked Issa to withdraw the subpoena..

In a letter released on Monday, Cummings and Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia called Issa’s action “unnecessary and misguided.”

Democrats have argued that hearings and Issa’s multiple subpoenas of administration officials are politically motivated.

Issa, who has held numerous confrontational hearings investigating a variety of Obama administration programs and personnel, has said he’s interested only in the truth.

Meanwhile, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who served as an economic adviser to President Obama, said the President has not been adequately served by his staff in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“He was not well served by his colleagues in the administration,” Summers said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.” “The American people were not well served by the way in which this played out.”

Summers wrote a memo to the President in 2010 suggesting that HealthCare.gov was not something the government could handle and he needed to bring in experts.

While Summers would not provide details about internal discussions, he said Tuesday, “You need experts. You need to trust but you need to verify. You can’t go rushing the schedule when you get behind or you end up making more errors.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.