White House Tech 'SWAT Team' Missed Obamacare Warning Signs

Image: White House Tech 'SWAT Team' Missed Obamacare Warning Signs

Wednesday, 13 Nov 2013 09:28 AM

By Elliot Jager

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With the HealthCare.gov site now a high-profile government technology failure, questions are being asked about the role of White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and his team.

Assessing the Obamacare site in July, Park told CNBC, "We have actually done a huge amount of user testing, user-experience design to make sure that the website is as user-friendly as humanly possible. I've taken a look at the early prototypes. They're incredibly impressive."

On Wednesday, Park will have to defend this assessment in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Other administration technology officials also are expected to testify.

Before joining the White House, Park worked on HealthCare.gov at the Department of Health and Human Services, Reuters reported.

President Barack Obama established the White House technology office to function as an IT SWAT team within the federal government, setting performance targets and holding government managers responsible for meeting milestones, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"Obama knew the government had problems with technology" and the team was "designed to swoop in and rescue big projects before they became disasters," the Journal reported.

The power and jurisdiction of the White House chief technology officer is not clearly defined and his or her task is complicated by a lack of staff, the Journal stated.

Aneesh Chopra, Park's predecessor, said the job was envisioned as advisory. He and his team — which included Jeffrey Zients, now charged with overseeing the repair of the site — did, however, intervene to salvage a number of troubled technology projects, according to the Journal.

Under Park, the IT team did not pick up on signs that pointed to problems at the HealthCare.gov site, according to the Journal. The White House's IT Dashboard of federal projects marked HealthCare.gov as problematic for failing to meet project status information deadlines.

An outside expert told the Journal that the IT Dashboard was "flawed because it measures how well a program hews to its budget and schedule, rather than its performance."

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