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Key House Republican presses tech companies on Obamacare glitches

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks during "The Security Failures of Be
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks during "The Security Failures of Be

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of a key congressional oversight committee has asked Google, Microsoft and three other U.S. companies to provide details on their possible involvement in a "tech surge" aimed at fixing a website implementing President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.

Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, made the request in a letter to Google, Microsoft, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, Oracle and Expedia, committee spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll said.

Issa, a relentless critic of the Obama administration, wants information on contacts the companies may have had with the White House about the Healthcare.gov website by Friday. Carroll called it the first step of a "rolling inquiry" that could include other companies.

The five named companies were selected because of press reports about their potential involvement in fixing the website, Carroll said.

Google, Oracle and Verizon declined to comment on the letter. Microsoft and Expedia could not be immediately reached for comment.

Republicans, long opposed to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare," have started their own congressional investigation about the role of the White House in the October 1 rollout of the website, which serves 36 states and is meant to help the uninsured determine their eligibility for tax credits toward buying private coverage under Obamacare.

Only a trickle of users so far have been able to advance through the enrollment process on the website.

The Department of Health and Human Services said at the weekend it was launching a "tech surge" for the website, but neither it nor the White House has provided details about the cause of the problems, precisely what is being done to fix them and who exactly is doing the fixing.

Obama, who said on Monday that he was frustrated by the website's problems, turned on Tuesday to trusted adviser Jeffrey Zients to lead the surge.

Zients, who will become head of the National Economic Council in January, will provide short-term management advice and counsel on the project, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog posting.

She said a team of experts and specialists drawn from government and industry, "including veterans of top Silicon Valley companies," also would work to diagnose and repair the website's problems.

In his letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters, Issa complained of a dearth of information about the project.

"Despite the President's assertion that 'we're well into a "tech surge"' neither the White House nor HHS is providing additional details about which private sector companies have been engaged or whether they are being engaged through the appropriate procurement processes," Issa said in the letter.

"Your company has, however, been prominently mentioned in public discussion related to HealthCare.gov," Issa said.

He asked that the companies indicate in writing by Friday what contacts they have had with the administration or "any entity" working on the website project, and for a "specific description of any and all problems brought to your attention."

At least two other congressional committees are investigating the glitches and whether the administration was forthright about the problems. Several contractors are due to appear at a hearing on Thursday about their work on the website.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Paul Simao)

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