Henry Chao, the project manager of HealthCare.gov, is sworn in to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
HealthCare.gov could barely function on the day the health insurance marketplace debuted, and internal emails show at least some top health officials could see the failure coming.
In emails from July, released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Obama administration officials write of unskilled developers and a series of missed deadlines. One email said the "entire build is in jeopardy." But when the administration's top people in charge of the implementation testified before the committee in the months leading up to the site launch, they said just the opposite — that they were ready.
"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," committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement.
You can read the full email exchanges at the committee site. But here are the most dire warnings detailed in the emails between Henry Chao, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project manager in charge of HealthCare.gov, and other officials:
Interestingly, Chao, who took the brunt of tongue-lashings from lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee this week, comes out in the emails as a decent public servant who took seriously his promises that HealthCare.gov would work, only to wind up the pilot of an exploding plane. With a July email sharing a video link to his summer testimony assuring lawmakers the site would work on time, he urges his team not to fall short, writing:
" 'I wanted to share this with you so you can see and hear that ... I under oath stated we are going to make Oct. 1,' Chao wrote. 'I would like you (to) put yourself in my shoes standing before Congress, which in essence is standing before the American public, and know that you speak the tongue of not necessarily just past truths but the truth that you will make happen.' "
The other key takeaway may not surprise those of you who have been following this saga closely. The contractors, namely CGI Federal, were woefully understaffed and underprepared despite their multimillion-dollar federal contract. Its track record with similar IT projects isn't great. The Washington Examiner reported that CGI's performance on Ontario, Canada's health care medical registry for diabetes sufferers was so poor that officials ditched the $46.2 million contract after three years of missed deadlines.
These documents call into question whether contractors can fix the website as promised by the end of November.
The HealthCare.gov wreckage highlights the systemic issues with federal IT purchasing: Contractors with serious technical chops often don't compete for these bids. Contractors experienced at navigating the complex world of winning contracts win bids. President Obama reiterated his calls for systemic federal procurement reform in remarks to the press on Thursday.