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Investigators: OMB shares blame for HealthCare.gov woes

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Weak oversight by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may have contributed to information technology (IT) problems at the HealthCare.gov project.

Officials at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) come to that conclusion in a HealthCare.gov report prepared at the request of many members of Congress.

One of lawmakers’ questions was why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the HHS directly in charge of setting up HealthCare.gov, had so much trouble with the HealthCare.gov project.

See also: Marilyn Tavenner to leave CMS post

The HHS uses HealthCare.gov to handle Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) public exchange enrollment in the states in which HHS handles the exchange enrollment process.

One problem was that the HHS chief information officer (CIO) did too little to oversee the project, and felt he did not have the authority to play a direct role in managing HHS IT investments at the division level, Valerie Melvin, a GAO director, writes in the GAO report.

Melvin writes that another problem is that OMB, a White House agency, failed to enforce OMB IT project standards.

Federal law and OMB guidance required HHS to appoint a CIO and make the CIO responsible for monitoring IT programs, and OMB was also supposed to be keeping close tabs on the HealthCare.gov project, Melvin writes.

OMB’s “involvement in overseeing the development efforts of HealthCare.gov and its supporting systems was limited prior to the initial launch in October 2013,” Melvin writes.

OMB brought CMS and its federal partners and helped oversee the project’s budget, but OMB officials did not conduct a thorough review of the project, even though HealthCare.gov was designated as a high-risk project and an OMB technical project dashboard showed that the project was running into problems seven months before the October 2013 launch date, Melvin says.

Even though the dashboard showed that the HealthCare.gov IT investment was performing poorly, “OMB did not effectively use information provided by this mechanism to analyze, track, and evaluate the risks of this major investment,” Melvin says.

Sylvia Burwell, who is now the HHS secretary, was the OMB director from April 2013 through April 2014.