Obamacare Website Was ‘in Jeopardy’ in July, Emails Reveal

Upton released internal Obama administration emails Friday showing officials were concerned about HealthCare.gov's functionality. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Upton released internal Obama administration emails Friday showing officials were concerned about HealthCare.gov's functionality. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 15, 2013 at 2:52pm

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Friday released a string of administration emails regarding the construction of HealthCare.gov that provide insight as to why the health care website is so troubled.

In the internal email chains with officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, administration officials express serious concerns regarding having an insufficient number of web developers and insufficient money and time to complete the project.

“Administration officials looked us in the eye and told us everything was ‘on track’ but when we pull back the curtain now, the mess is disturbing,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton said in a statement. “What reason do the American people have to believe that the administration is capable of meeting its November 30 goal for fixing HealthCare.gov or its January 1 promise to deliver health care to Americans across the country?”

The Michigan Republican said the “botched rollout has created a serious question of competence and trust in the administration.”

Those questions might not be helped by the emails turned over to the committee.

The emails from July 8 to July 20 of this year show those working on the website expressing numerous concerns.

Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer and deputy director of CMS, wrote on July 16 that he wanted to convey “how low the confidence level” is with the website.

“And then pile on top of that the request for more money when we constantly struggle to get a release done, vacillating on delivery by due dates, and worse of all poor [quality assurance] from build of the [virtual machines] all the way up to their software,” Chao wrote.

He wrote that the contractors “take direction from us,” and that he didn’t want to hear excuses about the contractors.

“I just need to feel more confident they are not going to crash the plane at take-off, regardless of price,” he wrote.

In a separate email to more than 40 administration officials and at least one contractor, Chao sent a link to the testimony he and and CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner delivered to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I’m not sharing this with you because I think it’s entertaining and informative,” Chao wrote on July 20. “I wanted to share this with you so you can see and hear that both Marilyn and I under oath stated we are going to make October 1.”

But throughout the emails, there are a series of issues brought up that made the Oct. 1 deadline look like wishful thinking.

On July 8, Jeffrey Grant, a senior technical adviser for CMS, wrote that he had just finished “an extended set of development planning meetings” with the CMS Office of Information Systems.

“Suffice to say, the upshot is that the [Financial Management] build appears to be way off track and getting worse,” Grant wrote. Grant raised a concern that there were only 10 web developers working on the site for functionality, and only one of those developers was “at a high enough skill level to handle complex issue resolution, which now appears to be required for all aspects of our build.”

He also noted that data collection was “weeks behind schedule,” and that most of the test cases for contractor CGI were failing.

“There has been no independent testing and CGI still cannot support user acceptance testing,” Grant wrote, noting that testing was originally scheduled for early June.

He noted that another program would be “barebones at best” for early August testing.

Grant concluded the email by noting that “while [the Office of Information Systems] has always said we had an independent team for [Financial Management] development, they have never revealed the seriously substandard level of staffing that this team has. We believe that our entire build is in jeopardy.”

Reached for comment on Friday, Grant said, “I really can’t talk to you about this stuff, sorry.”