The testimony given by contractors behind the health care website sounded pretty familiar yesterday: Not my fault.
It was eerily reminiscent of the players behind the oil well blow out in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago. Each said, "We're doing our part, it's the other contractor that has a problem."
And all said CMS and their management was at fault. CMS is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That's the government.
But the contractors also pointed a finger at government and brought up a new name to blame for the site's bumbling debut: Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The question surrounds a decision to delay the site's window shopping tool, which would have allowed users to browse the plans available to them without registering an account --in other words, anonymously. Instead, you had to register by creating a user account first.
Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, the primary contractor responsible for the main technological underpinnings of the website, was blaming QSSI, which was responsible for the online registration tool. QSSI executive Andy Slavitt acknowledged that the site was "inundated by many more consumers than anticipated" and that the online registration tool was "overwhelmed."
But both Campbell and Slavitt threw Chao under the bus. When asked who made the decision to delay the window shopping tool, Campbell's exact words were, "I believe it was Henry Chao and members of his team."
Of course, pinning that decision to delay on one individual is a good way to hide the fact that contractor-created software doesn't work. The bottleneck caused by users creating accounts is believed to be one of the major problems affecting the federal exchange. The theory is that it may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system --registration and window shopping-- as opposed to just window shopping if consumers could do it anonymously. (State-run exchanges that allow users to browse anonymously have faired much better.)
Why the decision to delay? Depends on who you ask. A spokeswoman for Chao's team said something about prioritizing resources, A spokesperson for Health and Human Services told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that officials decided not to include the browsing tool --listen carefully-- to make sure users saw their subsidy eligibility along with their insurance prices. Does that mean the administration didn't want to scare people off with the pre-subsidy prices?
HHS head Kathleen Sibelius is scheduled to testify next week, and Chao, who's mostly stayed out of the limelight, is likely to be called to the hot seat as well. Anyone think they'll give an honest answer to that question?