Key House Republican presses tech companies on Obamacare glitches

Reuters

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of akey congressional oversight committee has asked Google,Microsoft and three other U.S. companies to provide details ontheir possible involvement in a "tech surge" aimed at fixing awebsite implementing President Barack Obama's signaturehealthcare law.

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

Issa, a relentless critic of the Obama administration, wantsinformation on contacts the companies may have had with theWhite House about the Healthcare.gov website by Friday. Carrollcalled it the first step of a "rolling inquiry" that couldinclude other companies.

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

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

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

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

The Department of Health and Human Services said at theweekend it was launching a "tech surge" for the website, butneither it nor the White House has provided details about thecause of the problems, precisely what is being done to fix themand who exactly is doing the fixing.

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

Zients, who will become head of the National EconomicCouncil in January, will provide short-term management adviceand counsel on the project, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saidin a blog posting.

She said a team of experts and specialists drawn fromgovernment and industry, "including veterans of top SiliconValley companies," also would work to diagnose and repair thewebsite's problems.

In his letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters, Issacomplained 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 providingadditional details about which private sector companies havebeen engaged or whether they are being engaged through theappropriate procurement processes," Issa said in the letter.

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

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

At least two other congressional committees areinvestigating the glitches and whether the administration wasforthright about the problems. Several contractors are due toappear at a hearing on Thursday about their work on the website.

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