Great moments in state exchange success: Oregon governor sacks four for site failure

Well, one guy resigned and the governor asked the state health board to get rid of the others. Perhaps that’s an indicator of the authority and leadership that led to this debacle? The state of Oregon has now evaluated how it spent $200 million on an exchange site that hasn’t enrolled one person. The report cites familiar problems in the Obamacare saga—a “‘fundamental breakdown” of project management, ‘no single point of authority or accountability,'” among other things.

Management breakdowns, over-optimism, and poor work by the main IT vendor contributed to the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange debacle, according to a state consultant’s review.

While releasing the report at the Capitol, Gov. John Kitzhaber said he is “angry and disappointed” by the exchange’s problems, but praised the report as a thorough way to prevent similar problems in the future. He announced that Bruce Goldberg, the former Oregon Health Authority director who now heads the exchange, has resigned — calling it “the right decision.”

Kitzhaber cited… weak contracting and the failure to hire a system integrator, sort of an IT general contractor that had been part of the initial plan.

Kitzhaber also mentioned “mistrust and tension” between the Oregon Health Authority and Cover Oregon, and that “key project managers over time became desensitized” to quality assurance consultant reports that raised warning after warning.

He also stressed poor work by Oracle, and a “unrealistically high sense of optimism among key leaders that Oracle could deliver when key measures indicated that was not possible.”

As with the federal site, there were plenty of signs that this wasn’t going to work, but no one was in a position to recognize or punish subpar performance:

“A consistent theme First Data heard in the interviews was that the continued reassurance of Oracle led Cover Oregon to believe the October rollout was achievable, and Cover Oregon, therefore, continued to reassure the state,” the report said. “Although past performance on the project indicated a history of missed deadlines and problems, the Cover Oregon leadership and the State continued to trust that performance would improve.”

The problem: contracts entered into by the Oregon Health Authority, then taken over by Cover Oregon, lacked any teeth. So Oracle faced no penalty for missed deadlines or poor work.

Goldberg, a close political ally of the governor’s, is not the only one to go. Nice to see them holding people accountable, but no one has any idea how to rescue the site:

Gov. John Kitzhaber announced a major managerial housecleaning Thursday in response to the mounting controversy over the state’s oversight of its disastrous health exchange.

Among the departing is perhaps Kitzhaber’s closest and most important health care reform ally, Bruce Goldberg. Kitzhaber said he also asked the Cover Oregon board to remove Triz DelaRosa, chief operating officer for Cover Oregon, and Aaron Karjala, Cover Oregon’s chief information officer.

“We have made mistakes and we will learn from it,” Kitzhaber said, but added what can be done to rescue the exchange website is unclear. “I’m not saying that this is going to be easy.”

The state has been enrolling people manually, but that doesn’t put the $200 million back in taxpayers’ pockets.