contractors point fingers back at Obama administration in House testimony

Yesterday, the contractors who contributed to the fiasco testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has begun a probe into how $400 million and a 42-month lead time produced an embarrassing failure for Health and Human Services. They made it clear where the blame lies for the failure, claiming that their pieces of the project won approval and worked when they turned them over to CMS. Either the problems are the other contractors in the room, or more likely CMS and HHS:

Principal contractors hired to build the ObamaCare website are hitting back at the Obama administration for the site’s overwhelming technical problems.

Executives from CGI Federal and QSSI—the site’s main contractors—are among four companies testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday on the glitches.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “serves the important role of systems integrator or `quarterback’ on this project and is the ultimate responsible party for the end-to-end performance,” CGI’s Senior Vice President Cheryl Campbell said in prepared testimony, according to the Associated Press.

“No amount of testing within reasonable time limits can adequately replicate a live environment of this nature,” she added.

Campbell went on to blame “another contractor” for the issues of account creation, the New York Times reports:

She blamed “another contractor” for problems that consumers have had creating secure password-protected accounts. She did not name the company, but government records show it is Quality Software Services Inc., a unit of the UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers.

These problems “created a bottleneck that prevented the vast majority of users” from gaining access to the federal exchange, Ms. Campbell said.

Quality Software Services executive Andrew Slavitt told the House committee that they did the proper testing, identified a number of problems — and gave the information back to CMS:

Andrew M. Slavitt, the UnitedHealth executive responsible for Quality Software Services, said its identity verification tool was just one part of “the federal marketplace’s registration and access management system, which involves multiple vendors and pieces of technology.”

These were overwhelmed by people trying to use the site, Mr. Slavitt said. One reason for the logjam, he suggested, is that the administration made “a late decision requiring consumers to register for an account before they could browse for insurance products.”

Mr. Slavitt said that Quality Software Services was one of several companies that tested the federal marketplace before it opened.

“In our role as tester,” he said, “we were tasked with identifying errors in code that was provided to us by others.” The results were reported back to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the relevant contractor, “who in turn was responsible for fixing coding errors or making any necessary changes,” he said.

The front-end problems are masking the back-end problems, too. Thanks to the logjam in account creation, the contractor responsible for dealing with paper applications has seen an unexpected boost in demand. The problem is that the contractor, Serco, has to use the same back-end system as to register those applicants — and that doesn’t work, either.

Energy and Commerce will start calling Obama administration officials to testify next week, Bloomberg notes in their preview of today’s continuing testimony. Republicans want to get enough on the record now for that interrogation, hoping to force HHS and CMS officials into providing real answers to account for the disaster:

Maybe they should keep this point from the NYT in mind, though:

The same contractors, testifying before the same committee on Sept. 10, assured lawmakers that they were ready to handle a surge of users when the federal exchange opened on Oct. 1.

Perhaps the ECC will remind them of that today.