Sebelius Seeks Investigation Into Failed Obamacare Website Launch

The administration is hoping to get ahead of congressional investigations.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius swears in before the House Commitee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday.
National Journal
Sam Baker
Dec. 11, 2013, 5:15 a.m.

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Just hours be­fore she was set to testi­fy be­fore Con­gress about the fail­ures of Health­, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us an­nounced her own in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the site’s flaws.

HHS an­nounced Wed­nes­day morn­ing that Se­beli­us has asked the de­part­ment’s in­spect­or gen­er­al to re­view the con­tract­ing pro­cesses for the Obama­care en­roll­ment web­site. She sought an audit of the con­tract­ors that built the site and the fed­er­ally run in­sur­ance mar­ket­places it sup­ports, as well as HHS’s man­age­ment of those con­tract­ors.

“The launch of Health­ was flawed and simply un­ac­cept­able…. I be­lieve strongly in the need for ac­count­ab­il­ity, and in the im­port­ance of be­ing good stew­ards of tax­pay­er dol­lars,” Se­beli­us said in a blog post Wed­nes­day.

She pledged “full co­oper­a­tion” with the in­spect­or gen­er­al’s re­view.

Her state­ment was pos­ted just a few hours be­fore she was sched­uled to testi­fy be­fore the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, which is pur­su­ing its own in­vest­ig­a­tion of the web­site’s fail­ures. Since re­tak­ing con­trol of the House, Re­pub­lic­ans have turned in­vest­ig­a­tions in­to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mis­steps in­to something of a spe­cialty, drag­ging them out for months — or years — at a time with in­cre­ment­al re­leases of ma­ter­i­al aimed at em­bar­rass­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

By re­quest­ing a sep­ar­ate probe, the White House hopes to get ahead of the con­gres­sion­al in­quir­ies, hand­ing fo­cus to a nom­in­ally less par­tial in­quis­it­or and cre­at­ing the per­cep­tion that they are ser­i­ous about get­ting to the bot­tom of the web­site’s tech­incal mis­steps.

In her last ap­pear­ance be­fore the com­mit­tee, Se­beli­us said law­makers should hold her re­spons­ible for the web­site’s botched launch — a move that provided polit­ic­al ac­count­ab­il­ity but didn’t re­solve the sub­stant­ive ques­tions of how such an im­port­ant and ex­pens­ive pro­ject went so far off the rails.

Blame for the site’s dra­mat­ic fail­ures seems to rest with both con­tract­ors and HHS of­fi­cials. Con­tract­ors — not­ably CGI Fed­er­al, the firm that built the bulk of Health­ — ap­pear to have missed dead­lines and left gaps in their code.

But HHS of­fi­cials have also been ac­cused of mis­man­aging the site’s con­tract­ors, fail­ing to co­ordin­ate vari­ous parts of the sys­tem, and in­sist­ing on dead­lines at the ex­pense of a prag­mat­ic re­view of what was work­ing and what wasn’t.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has so far res­isted calls to fire someone over Health­‘s fail­ures, say­ing its first pri­or­ity was to get the site func­tion­ing.

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