WH Reluctance to Outsource Partly Led to Obamacare Website Woes

Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 04:04 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The Obama administration's opposition to outsourcing may have forced the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to act as its own general contractor for the healthcare.gov website — a role it was ill-equipped to execute, The Wall Street Journal reported.
One result was that problems with the site, which became known at the end of March and early April, were not flagged up the chain of command because CMS did not report its concerns or request White House assistance.

In July, CMS technology official Henry Chao wrote an internal email to agency co-workers implying that he was worried about the work of the outside vendors."I just need to feel more confident they are not going to crash the plane at takeoff, regardless of the price."

As its own general contractor the agency had no one person in overall authority. Meanwhile, at the White House, Chief Technology Officer Todd Park was only minimally involved in the nitty-gritty of what was happening at CMS, the Journal reported.  

The White House Office of Management and Budget was set up to evaluate major technology projects but CMS was apparently reluctant to seek its assistance out of concern over OMB's reputation for antagonism toward troubled projects, according to the Journal.

White House contracting policies contributed to CMS' problems, the Journal reported. The administration discouraged government reliance on outsourcing in the belief that the private sector should not take on essentially governmental tasks.

This may explain why CMS served as its own general contractor overseeing the work of outside vendors as they interfaced with its own operations.

There was no one individual accountable for the project, said Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service. That resulted in a "real leadership deficit."

A White House report released over the weekend acknowledged that "Inadequate management oversight and coordination among technical teams prevented real-time decision making and efficient responses to address the issues with the site."

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