White House knew in March that Healthcare.gov site was running off the rails

Despite assurances all year long that the development of the central web portal of ObamaCare was proceeding as planned, the Obama administration knew full well that the opposite was true — and had their own independent analysts warning of disaster.  The Washington Post reports this morning that the White House brought in outside consultants for a risk assessment months before HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured Congress that all was well, and they specifically warned the White House in March of the eventual disasters that the October 1 rollout produced:

The Obama administration brought in a private consulting team to independently assess how the federal online health insurance enrollment system was developing, according to a newly disclosed document, and in late March received a clear warning that its Oct. 1 launch was fraught with risks.

The analysis by McKinsey & Co. foreshadowed many of the problems that have dogged HealthCare.gov since its rollout, including the facts that the call-in centers would not work properly if the online system was malfunctioning and that insufficient testing would make it difficult to fix problems after the launch.

During the ensuing months, Sebelius and two of her top lieutenants at CMS, Marilyn Tavenner and Gary Cohen, issued repeated statements of good progress and assurances that the system would be ready for rollout on October 1st.  So did the White House itself.  However, McKinsey briefed all three HHS officials more than seven months ago on the potential disaster, as well as key White House officials:

This risk assessment, which was encapsulated in a 14-slide presentation, was delivered to senior White House and Department of Health and Human Services officials in four briefings between March 28 and April 8, the committee said.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Marilyn Tavenner, then acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); and White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park attended a session about the report on April 4 at HHS headquarters. Obama health policy adviser Jeanne Lambrew and then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mark Childress received a briefing April 8 at the White House.

In fact, Sebelius and Tavenner provided testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee well after that briefing.  ECC has oversight over HHS, and had pressed Sebelius and Tavenner on the progress of the ObamaCare infrastructure, but had received nothing but sunny assessments on the program’s development.  ECC’s chair on oversight, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), wants some straight answers on why his committee got misled by these officials:

“Despite assurances from Secretary Sebelius, Marilyn Tavenner and [CMS official] Gary Cohen that all was well and on track with the launch of the Affordable Care Act, we now have documents dating back to April that call into question the assertions made to this committee,” Murphy said.

Needless to say, the public perception of this administration’s integrity has taken some body shots this year, with Benghazi and the IRS scandals, among others.  The real damage has come in the past seven weeks, as the lie that ObamaCare wouldn’t force millions of people to change plans and doctors has finally been exposed. This new lie might be a little more perilous for Sebelius, Tavenner, and Cohen, however.  Even when administration officials are not testifying explicitly under oath to Congress, telling lies and intentionally providing misleading testimony is still a crime of obstruction of Congress, which can be prosecuted, although it’s unlikely that Eric Holder’s Department of Justice would pursue it. If Congress starts thinking about special prosecutors, though, all bets are off.

Politically, this is just another disaster that will reflect directly on Barack Obama — at least as long as he doesn’t fire Sebelius, Tavenner, and Cohen.  With Obama’s approval ratings taking a George Bush-like plunge, one wonders how long he’ll tie himself to the boat anchors at HHS.