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Microsoft’s DelBene to oversee Obamacare repairs, replacing Zients

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President Obama's top health official said Tuesday she has selected a Microsoft executive to manage the troubled federal Obamacare website, acknowledging that HealthCare.gov still needs strict oversight.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she picked Kurt DelBene to take over from Jeffrey Zients, who is leaving to head the National Economic Council next year.

Mr. DelBene recently led the Microsoft Office Division and will start work Wednesday. He agreed to serve in the role for at least the first half of 2014, Mrs. Sebelius said.

"The president and I believe strongly in having one person, with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 24/7 about HealthCare.gov," she wrote in a blog post.

The Obama administration's decision to name a successor to Mr. Zients was based on input from several Democratic senators who voiced concerns about the federal portal that serves 36 states.

Its rocky debut on Oct. 1 threatened to derail Mr. Obama's signature health law and wiped away the momentum Democrats thought they had going into the 2014 mid-term elections, after many voters blamed Republicans for the 16-day government shutdown that coincided with the launch of state-based health exchanges. The exchanges allow uninsured Americans to shop for private health plans, often with the help of government subsidies.

"Through the rollout of HealthCare.gov, we saw that a project of this size and scope needs the sustained leadership and day-to-day management of a chief executive officer," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat, who led the charge for a permanent manager of the website.

The White House had tapped Mr. Zients, a management consultant, to oversee repairs as part of a "tech surge" aimed at rescuing the balky website. He earned plaudits at the start of this month, when the website became more reliable.

"Jeff did an outstanding job working with our team to provide management advice and counsel on the HealthCare.gov project," Mrs. Sebelius said. "Today, the site is night and day from what it was when it launched on October 1."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr. DelBene was selected by Mrs. Sebelius in consultation with Mr. Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough.

Pressed on whether they should have created this position before the Oct. 1 launch, Mr. Carney said, "Obviously we would have much preferred a more successful launch."

"If that could've been affected by having somebody in this position in the past, then we should've had somebody in this position in the past," he added.

The Official Microsoft Blog touted Mr. DelBene's appointment with well-wishes from top company officials, including founder and chairman Bill Gates.

"Kurt is a talented and capable executive, with a track record of successfully managing complex large-scale technology projects," Mr. Gates said. "Working with Kurt over many years, I know him to be a passionate advocate for using technology to solve difficult problems at scale."

Mr. DelBene is married to Rep. Suzan DelBene, Washington Democrat who had a 12-year career at Microsoft.

⦁ Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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