- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The agency in charge of Obamacare didn’t strategize wisely or look beyond existing government contractors before they doled out 60 contracts to build out HealthCare.gov, according to an inspector general’s report Tuesday that sheds light on a federal project that stumbled out of the gate in fall 2013.

By design, HealthCare.gov was supposed to be a “one-stop shop” for uninsured Americans who lived in states that did not set up their own insurance portals under the Affordable Care Act, according to Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson.

But software glitches and capacity issues thwarted many users upon its launch in Oct. 1, an embarrassment for the White House that required a frantic rescue mission to make the site usable for people in 36 states.

The inspector general’s report outlines what contributed to some of the problems.

It said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tended to favor contractors that already did business with the government. Also, it did not identify a lead integrator to coordinate the work of dozens of contractors until after the October 2013 debacle, when it identified QSSI to run point on the rescue effort.

“The 33 companies that were awarded the 60 federal marketplace contracts each had individual tasks to support the implementation of the [exchange], but there was no single point-of-contact with responsibility for integrating contractors’ efforts and communicating the common project goal to all 33 companies,” the inspector general found.

An agency official told the inspector that CMS considered one of its lead contractors, CGI Federal, to be the integrator, although the company says it didn’t see it that way.

“This deficiency could have been addressed through more rigorous acquisition planning, such as clearly defining roles in an acquisition strategy and in descriptions of contractors’ work,” the inspector general said.

Well into its second signup period, Obamacare’s websites have operated relatively smoothly since late 2013.

Administration officials say the law is working as intended and chipping away at the uninsured rate.

But the inspector’s report lends weigh to critics who said the White House did not put anyone in charge of Care.gov. Since then, the administration has hired a CEO to oversee the federal marketplace.

The findings also provide fuel to Republican critics who say the administration squandered billions of dollars on Obamacare.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said Tuesday he still wants to recoup federal grant dollars spent on glitch-laden state exchanges.

“We need to know what happened and whether that money will ever be paid back,” he told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

For the federal exchange, HHS doled out 60 contracts across 33 companies to perform work on HealthCare.gov.

Fifty-five of the 60 deals were awarded as orders under established contracts, the inspector general found, so “only companies that held previously established contracts were eligible to obtain these orders.”

Further limiting itself, the agency solicited a proposal from only one company for a third of the contracts.

Among its other findings, the inspector general said CMS did not develop acquisition strategies and plans for the overall project and individual contracts — moves that would have helped them identify contract risks and ways to avoid them.

The inspector general said in the future, CMS should choose a systems integrator so contractors are on the same page, and they should adhere to contracting guidelines.

CMS told the inspector that it concurs with its findings. It said it has “moved aggressively” to implement contracting reforms and appointed a task force to oversee its contracting for the federal exchange.

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