Obama's tech expert becomes target over healthcare website woes

Reuters

By Roberta Rampton and Sarah McBride

Oct 25 (Reuters) - Todd Park has gone from steering hishealthcare information technology company through a blockbusterIPO to occasionally sleeping on a mat in his office whileworking to repair the troubled new U.S. government healthcarewebsite.

Park, the chief technology officer for the White House and atop advisor to President Barack Obama, now finds himself among ahandful of officials with targets on their backs as Republicanstry to root out who is responsible for this month'sglitch-ridden rollout of Healthcare.gov.

Five years ago, Park was a private-sector tech success storyhaving led his company to an initial public offering andstarting a second one that was attracting millions of dollars inventure capital.

The 40-year-old helped build the original Healthcare.govwebsite in 90 days in 2010 when he was chief technology officerat the Department of Health and Human Services. The website thenprovided information about public and private insuranceprograms, sorted by zipcode.

The White House trotted him out in July to talk up the newversion, which is designed to be the main portal for millions ofuninsured Americans to buy coverage through federal exchanges,an important part of Obama's signature domestic policyachievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

"I've taken a look at the early prototypes. They'reincredibly impressive. And the teams are using all kinds ofadvanced technology to make sure that that experience will onlyhelp insurance," Park said in a CNBC TV interview in July.

But the exchanges' debut on Oct. 1 was anything butimpressive, beset by technical glitches. Three weeks later, manypeople are still unable to sign on and enroll.

Park, the son of Korean immigrants who grew up in Ohio andearned an economics degree from Harvard, has kept a low profiledespite being part of what the government described as a "techsurge" racing to fix the website's problems.

An administration source said, however, that Park's work hasbeen so demanding that he has on occasion slept on a mat in hisoffice.

His direct role in Healthcare.gov is unclear - as is therole of other White House and health department officials. Theadministration's lack of transparency has angered Republicansand some Democrats trying to get answers about who isresponsible for the troubled rollout and who will repair it.

REPUBLICAN DEMANDS PARK DOCUMENTS

At the first oversight hearing called by Republicans onThursday, U.S. House of Representatives Energy and CommerceChairman Fred Upton of Michigan criticized the administrationfor being "allergic to transparency."

And at least one powerful Republican has set his sights onPark.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa this weekasked Park and White House Chief Information Officer SteveVanRoekel to hand over documents about their involvement in thewebsite's woes.

"You surely maintained significant involvement in theoversight and development of Obamacare's critical informationtechnology infrastructure," Issa said in a letter.

The White House declined to make Park available for aninterview. In a statement, White House Chief of Staff DenisMcDonough said, "Todd's infectious passion for public service,tireless work ethic and technology expertise and experience makehim a huge asset to our White House team."

Park now draws a salary of $165,300, significantly less thanhis $270,000 base salary at his Boston-based company,Athenahealth in 2008. The amount does not include the5.4 percent of the company, then worth $570 million, he owned atthe time of its initial public offering in 2007. The company nowhas a market capitalization of more than $5 billion.

After graduating from Harvard with a degree in economics in1994, Kim first worked for the consulting firm Booz AllenHamilton before he and a fellow consultant, JonathanBush, decided to try becoming healthcare entrepreneurs.

What started as a maternity care business became focused onmedical management software and related services.

Brandon Hull, co-founder of Cardinal Partners, one ofAthenahealth's backers who still sits on the board, said Parkcan often convey ideas with passion. Hull recalled sitting inthe audience at a Philadelphia health conference several yearsago while Park, striding across the stage during a presentation,accidentally fell off, mid-speech. He quickly surfaced andclimbed back on stage to finish his talk, Hull said.

PROBLEM SOLVER

In early 2008, Park co-founded Castlight, a company thatprovides tailored data about healthcare costs. In 2011, it wasNo. 1 on The Wall Street Journal's list of "The Top 50Venture-Backed Companies."

"When we started Castlight, people said, 'Oh, you can't getpricing data,'" said Bryan Roberts, one of Park'sco-founders. "He loves to solve problems that other people thinkcan't be solved."

Park was a donor to Obama's 2008 election campaign, giving atotal of $33,100 to Obama and the Democratic NationalConvention, according to the Open Secrets non-profitorganization that tracks campaign contributions.

He was recommended for his current job by Aneesh Chopra,Obama's first chief technical officer. Chopra told Reuters thatit would have been inappropriate for Park as a politicalappointee to be deeply involved in activities like contractprocurement and project management of the new Healthcare.gov.

David Brailer, health Information Technology chief for theBush Administration for two years, also said Park's job wouldhave been removed from the nuts-and-bolts of the contract.

But Brailer, who said he thinks "very highly" of Park, saidthat does not mean he will be protected from Republicans andsome Democrats who say that someone needs to be held accountablefor the website fiasco.

"I have no doubt he's probably going to be one of the peoplethey're trying to blame for this," Brailer said.

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