GOP: White House injecting "political considerations" into HealthCare.gov rollout

Republicans are stepping up their investigation of the flawed HealthCare.gov rollout this week, with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee suggesting that the administration demanded a last-minute change to the website that would prevent unregistered users from viewing prices.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget's Chief Information Officer, Steve VanRoekel, and the Chief Technology Officer, Todd Park, Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and four other Republicans allege that "political considerations" motivated the White House to ask the contractors building the website to violate OMB-advocated best practices in information technology.

"Given the information gathered by the Committee thus far, we are concerned that the Administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare's effect on increasing health insurance premiums," the letter says. "We believe that the political decision to mask the 'sticker shock' of ObamaCare to the American people prevented contractors from using universally accepted and OMB-advocated IT 'best practices' in the development and roll out of this massive federal government IT project. When prudent design and programming decisions are subordinated to politics, the result is the chaotic mess we have today."

The letter cites briefings provided to the committee staff by CGI Federal, the contractor hired to build the website, where CGI officials repeatedly alluded to what "the White House wants." The committee also says CGI told them that the ability to shop for health insurance without registering for an account first - a move the administration has said was made to ensure users were aware of the subsidies for which they were eligible - was made "in late August or early September," just weeks before the site's launch on Oct. 1.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee sent out their own letter Tuesday saying the GOP mischaracterized the meetings with CGI officials and omitted other responses they gave "to create an unsubstantiated narrative."

"Your letter omits a series of questions asked by Committee staff and answered by CGI officials that directly contradict your assertions. For example, in response to a question by Committee staff, CGI officials stated that they had no knowledge of any White House role in specific decisions relating to the website. CGI officials also stated that they had seen no evidence of political considerations affecting operational decisions about the website. And when asked if they were aware of any political intervention by anyone at the White House, CGI officials answered, 'No, sir,'" the letter said. "Instead, CGI officials told Committee staff that they were well aware that effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act website is a top priority of the White House, and that CMS officials routinely stressed the importance of its proper functioning. "

The GOP has already scheduled a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing for Thursday entitled, "Implementation Failures: Didn't Know or Didn't Disclose?" at which several of the top contractors working to implement the law are expected to testify. Earlier this month, Issa and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also sent a letter earlier this month to Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius last month asking about the alleged architectural problems with HealthCare.gov.

Multiple Republican lawmakers have demanded that Sebelius testify before Congress. She is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next Wednesday, citing a scheduling conflict with the Thursday hearing, which has left the GOP crying foul.

"The refusal of Secretary Sebelius to appear at this week's hearing shows that this administration is still not prepared to be straight with the American people. Every day new questions about the president's health care law arise, but candid explanations are nowhere to be found," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. "This decision continues a troubling pattern of this administration seeking to avoid accountability and stonewall the public... hope President Obama has a greater appreciation for the role of oversight and orders his Secretary to fully cooperate with all congressional inquiries."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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