Revealed: HHS was given "stark warnings" about ObamaCare website problems a month before launch

Looky what landed in CNN’s lap just 14 hours or so before Sebelius is scheduled to testify before the House. I assume the source is some staffer on Issa’s Oversight Committee, which received a copy of the report from CGI while investigating the ObamaCare rollout. But you never know: Given Sebelius’s determination to scapegoat the contractors, could be that CGI decided to launch its own preemptive strike on her credibility.


Fourteen hours. Tick tock.

On Capitol Hill on Monday, Medicaid Chief Marilyn Tavenner, whose job it was to oversee the October 1 rollout of the website, said she did not foresee its problems.

“No, we had tested the website and we were comfortable with its performance,” she said. “Now, like I said, we knew all along there would be as with any new website, some individual glitches we would have to work out. But, the volume issue and the creation of account issues was not anticipated and obviously took us by surprise. And did not show up in testing.”

But the CGI document, which describes “outstanding issues currently being mitigated” says the testing timeframes are “not adequate to complete full functional, system, and integration testing activities” and lists the impact of the problems as “significant.”…

It is not clear if a later report detailed that the issues were resolved. But the warnings run counter to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ stated optimism to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that when she woke up October 1, things would go smoothly.

Here’s the key bit, from page 11 of the report. It was sent to CMS on September 6; note that the first open issue below, foreseeing “severe” impact if CGI wasn’t granted access to the tools it requested, had been outstanding for more than three months at that point.



Interesting that the lack of performance testing is listed as having only “moderate” impact. One of the big complaints by the contractors when they testified last week was that they would have liked to have had months to test. Being given inadequate time three weeks out from launch would therefore seem like more than a “moderate” problem. Here’s another thing that’s curious, which an administration source pointed to in its defense when queried about this by CNN:


If alarm bells were ringing internally about the site not being ready, why is there no mention of it in the upcoming “milestones” report? On the other hand, don’t miss the forest for the trees here: Of course people inside HHS knew that the site was in trouble in September, for the simple reason that expert observers had been warning about it for months and months. This train began to wreck long before September 6:

By early this year, people inside and outside the federal bureaucracy were raising red flags. “We foresee a train wreck,” an insurance executive working on information technology said in a February interview. “We don’t have the I.T. specifications. The level of angst in health plans is growing by leaps and bounds. The political people in the administration do not understand how far behind they are.”

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, warned in June that many challenges had to be overcome before the Oct. 1 rollout.

“So much testing of the new system was so far behind schedule, I was not confident it would work well,” Richard S. Foster, who retired in January as chief actuary of the Medicare program, said in an interview last week.


Did CGI lie to Sebelius down the stretch, convincing her that the site was more ready than it was, or did Sebelius press them to roll it out knowing that it wasn’t ready? That’s one source of suspense tomorrow — although it’s not all that suspenseful given that CGI really had no reason to lie to its client. Sebelius had a strong political motive in launching the site on time but CGI obviously had a strong business reason to favor delay, lest its name be attached to a notoriously inferior product. Which brings us to the other source of suspense: What’s Sebelius going to say when she’s asked why the White House didn’t delay the launch? Issa’s committee doubtless has all sorts of evidence marshaled to show that HHS knew for a good long while that the site was in no condition to handle mass public usage. They could have delayed (no matter what Sebelius) tells you and they had pragmatic reasons to do so. Is there any good reason why they shouldn’t have, apart from pure politics?

Here’s Sebelius talking to Sanjay Gupta last week. Note the part at 2:15 when she says she was “optimistic” that things would go smoothly on launch day.


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