The House’s top investigator told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday she must recant her “false” testimony to Congress about the rollout of Obamacare and warned she could face criminal prosecution for lying to Congress.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, in a 14-page letter to Mrs. Sebelius, said she ignored security-based red flags raised by subordinates and by a private contractor and instead told Congress nobody had advised her to delay the Oct. 1 rollout of HealthCare.gov.
“Witnesses who purposely give false or misleading testimony during a congressional hearing may be subject to criminal liability under [the law], which prohibits ‘knowingly and willfully’ making materially false statements to Congress,” Mr. Issa, a California Republican, wrote. “With that in mind, I write to request that you correct the record and to implore you to be truthful with the American public about matters related to ObamaCare going forward.”
HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said the agency will respond directly to Mr. Issa’s committee, but noted the letter used “partial transcript excerpts” and that HealthCare.gov is closely monitored and meets federal security standards.
“There have been no successful security attacks on HealthCare.gov and no person or group has maliciously accessed personally identifiable information,” she added.
Mr. Issa’s warning came two days before House Republicans are scheduled to vote on bills to beef up data protections on the federal website.
Administration officials have assured Congress that HealthCare.gov is safe to use and has not been hacked.
The website, however, did suffer from web glitches in its early weeks of implementation, and Mrs. Sebelius was called before Congress to explain the law’s struggles.
Mr. Issa contrasted three of Mrs. Sebelius‘ statements to congressional committees with information they obtained from MITRE — a contractor hired to assess the portal’s security — and by Teresa Fryer, the chief information security officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
“Did any senior department official predict serious problems? And did any senior department officials advise delaying the rollout of the exchanges or parts of the exchanges on Oct. 1?” Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican, asked Mrs. Sebelius on Oct. 30 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“I can tell you that no senior official reporting to me ever advised me that we should delay,” Mrs. Sebelius told him.
Mrs. Sebelius told another lawmaker that MITRE “did not raise flags about going ahead, and the mitigation strategy was put in place to make sure that we had a temporary authority to operate in place while the mitigation was going on, and then a permanent authority to operate will be signed.”
And on Nov. 6, she told Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, that no one suggested that potential security risk outweighed the need to move forward with the system’s October launch.
But Mr. Issa said information from MITRE and Ms. Fryer pointed out risks in late September. Ms. Fryer described her concerns in detail during a Dec. 17 interview with the committee.
“So, in your opinion, the system on Oct. 1 had a high risk when it went live?” the committee asked Ms. Fryer, to which she replied: “From a security perspective, for a security risk only, in my opinion, yes, it was a high risk because of the level of uncertainty discovered during the testing.”
Ms. Fryer thought the risks were too great to sign an Authority To Operate document that cleared the way to move forward with HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1.
CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner signed the document, after the agency’s chief information officer at the time, Tony Trenkle, declined to sign off on it, according to testimony.
Administration officials said CMS carefully considered the authorization to operate, which is limited to six months. They said it was appropriate for Ms. Tavenner to sign the document, given the high-profile nature of the project.
But Mr. Issa said the move was unprecedented.
“Prior to further investigative action by the committee, we thought it prudent to write to you and invite you to reflect on your testimony,” he wrote to Mrs. Sebelius. “Should it be necessary to clarify or amend your testimony then we request you do so as quickly as possible.”
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