Issa subpoenas HHS documents regarding healthcare website woes

McClatchy Washington BureauOctober 31, 2013 

Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for documents that shed light on the ongoing problems with the website.

“The Administration’s failure to provide answers about what led to the disastrous launch of and what is being done to fix it is completely unacceptable,” Chairman Issa said in a statement.

The subpoena calls for HHS to provide documents by 12:00 p.m. on November 13, 2013. pertaining to technical problems and testing of the website along with information on the number of people who enrolled and tried to enroll in health plans on the federal exchange.

Joanne Peters, an HHS spokesperson, said the agency is trying to comply with the committee's multiple requests for information.

“Since Oct. 10, the committee has made five separate requests for a wide range of documents and transcribed interviews with HHS officials," Peters said in a statement. "While we are working diligently to satisfy their interest and have repeatedly communicated our intent to cooperate, their timeline was not feasible given the vast scope of their requests. We are disappointed that the committee believes a subpoena was necessary, however it does not change our intent to continue to cooperate with them to produce documents as expeditiously as we are able to.”

The website was back online at 8 a.m Thursday, Oct. 31, following the latest of two outages due to problems with its data hub that were caused by an outside contractor, Terremark, a division of Verizon Communications.

Problems with the data hub, which routes personal information throughout the federal marketplace, kept users from applying for health insurance coverage on Wednesday, Oct. 30. - the same day that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified before Congress about the site's ongoing problems.

A team of government and private industry IT experts dubbed the "tech surge," have been working to fix the website's problems and expect to have it functioning properly for most users by November 31.

On Thursday, HHS officials said the surge team features dozens of specialists from companies like Red Hat and Oracle. The team of software engineers, developers, designers and analysts, includes people like Michael Dickerson and Greg Gershman.

Dickerson is a site reliability engineer who's on leave from Google. According to HHS, Dickerson "has expertise in diving into any layer of the tech stack, from the metal to the application code to the people that write it, in order to deliversome of the world's most reliable online services."

Gershman is a developer and entrepreneur with "experience running agile development teams and creating better user experiences when interacting with government," according to an HHS press statement.

HHS said Dickerson is "leveraging his experience stabilizing large, high throughput applications to improve's reliability and performance." Gershman is "helping the development process be more agile so can release improvements more rapidly," according to HHS.

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