Ironically, some of the same contractors that may be blamed for “glitches” are also needed to fix the site. The normal inclination would be to slow the flow of funds to such companies, but lawyers say the need to keep those contractors working puts Sebelius and other officials in a tough spot.

“The first thing they do is stop or slow down current payments,” said Pam Marple, a former Civil Division attorney now with New York-based law firm Chadbourne & Parke. “They need them to keep working, but don’t want to be criticized for making payments when things go wrong.”

The federal government could sue for refunds or withhold payment to contractors. Contractors who believe they’ve been shorted could sue, or countersue. Companies could also sue one another or point fingers at other contractors or even other entities like state governments or private insurance companies for causing some of the problems.

“With the whole web of contractors and subcontractors, there are going to be a lot of opportunities for finger-pointing about who’s to blame and to say, ‘I was really responsible for this piece rather than that piece,’” said a former Justice Department official, who helped defend and bring such lawsuits on behalf of the federal government.