It’s not particularly surprising to learn that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has followed the time-honored Obama Administration practice of refusing to hand over documents requested by Congress. I’m honestly not sure why House Oversight bothers making polite requests with generous deadlines any more. Subpoenas are the only way to get the attention of the Most Transparent Administration In History, and even then it’s hit and miss. CNN reports:
A House Republican aide told CNN Monday that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius missed an extended deadline set by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to respond to its request for documents and information about the HealthCare.gov website. That could trigger a congressional subpoena from Republicans.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, first issued the request in a letter on October 10, setting an initial deadline of October 24. He extended the deadline to Monday at the close of business after receiving no response the first time. Issa indicated he would consider issuing a subpoena if Sebelius missed the second deadline.
You’ll never guess what their excuse was.
A spokesman for HHS told CNN Friday that the initial request came during the government shutdown and was extremely broad but that the agency had reached out to the committee to discuss the request and how HHS could respond.
Okay, you probably did guess that one on the first try.
Also receiving a subpoena from Rep. Issa’s committee: Quality Software Services Inc. (QSSI), one of the contractors who brought us the half-billion-dollar miracle of 404Care, the website that can’t find its own pages. They also missed a deadline to provide documents voluntarily, as The Hill reports:
Issa said in a release Tuesday that QSSI has until Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. to hand over any contracts it has with the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the HealthCare.gov development process.
Committee leaders first wrote a letter to the contractor Wednesday requesting that they voluntarily provide lawmakers with documents by Friday, which did not happen.
The letter warned the company if they failed meet that deadline, the committee would consider issuing a subpoena in an effort to obtain the information regarding the broken website.
???It is crucial that you provide information quickly because of the serious concerns about data security related to the lack of testing,??? the letter stated.
QSSI is one of the contractors that testified they were given only a matter of days to test the biggest web rollout in history. From a Fox News report about last week’s congressional hearings:
Representing contractor QSSI, Andrew Slavitt told the committee that ideally, end-to-end testing should have occurred well before the launch, with enough time to correct flaws.
“Months would be nice,” said Slavitt.
“We would have loved to have months,” concurred CGI vice president Cheryl Campbell, though she earlier claimed no amount of testing could have flagged all the problems.
Questioned whether there were concerns the site was not ready to go live, she also said: “It was not our position to tell our client whether they should go live or not go live.”
Really? Whose position would that have been, exactly? I guess it’s a lost cause to say that President Obama and Secretary Sebelius should have been on top of things.
Slavitt said his firm did share concerns with the agency, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, adding they were responsible for addressing them.
“We identified errors in code that was provided to us by others,” he said. “In this function we reported back the results to CMS and the relevant contractor, who in turn was responsible for fixing coding errors or making any necessary changes.”
He also blamed in part a “late decision” to require customers to register before browsing for insurance, which could have helped overwhelm the registration system.
“This may have driven higher simultaneous usage of the registration system that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred if consumers could window-shop anonymously,” he said.
Gosh, I’m starting to get the impression that allowing Big Government bureaucrats to design a massively complicated computer system, and change it at the last moment for entirely political reasons, might be a mistake.
Fingers of blame were pointed right back at QSSI during the hearings:
Campbell said QSSI’s tool that allowed consumers to create secure accounts created a “bottleneck” in the system.
Slavitt later said QSSI takes “accountability” for the problems with that function.
But evidently not enough “accountability” to cooperate with congressional investigators, absent a subpoena.
Secretary Sebelius also got caught fibbing about her agency’s behavior and the ObamaCare regulations by the Associated Press, which uses the far milder term “misstatement” for the false claims Sebelius made to deflect criticism:
Misstating the health care law she is responsible for administering, Kathleen Sebelius has asserted that the law required health insurance sign-ups to start Oct. 1, whether the system was ready or not. In fact, the decision when to launch the sign-up website was hers.
The troubled debut of the government’s health insurance enrollment website has raised questions about whether its start date should have been delayed to allow testing and repairs before it went live. Asked last week whether that might have been the wiser course, Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, said that wasn’t possible because the law required an Oct. 1 launch.
In a visit to a community health center in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Sebelius acknowledged more testing would have been preferable. “In an ideal world there would have been a lot more testing, but we did not have the luxury of that and the law said the go-time was Oct. 1,” she said.
But the law imposed no legal requirement to open the website Oct 1. The law says only that the enrollment period shall be “as determined by the secretary.” The launch date was set not in the law, but in regulations her department had issued. Agencies routinely allow themselves flexibility on self-imposed deadlines.
She went on to blame the government shutdown for her failures again, even though it was well known within her agency that the exchange wasn’t ready for prime time, long before the shutdown drama began. Also, if you’ll recall the media coverage of the shutdown’s early days, ObamaCare resources were pointedly excluded from it.
One of the reasons that allowing Sebelius to keep her job is ridiculous is that under ObamaCare, the HHS Secretary becomes the single most powerful bureaucrat on the planet. The Affordable Care Act’s huge stack of regulations include hundreds of matters left to the discretion of the Secretary. Another example is the hangman’s noose of regulations that have been strangling so many insurance plans over the past few weeks. The Secretary has abundant discretion for loosening up the standards for “grandfathered” policies, but she and Obama are pretending they can only sit back helplessly and watch the horror unfold.
We might cut Kathleen Sebelius a little slack by asserting that no human being could fully understand the vast complexity of ObamaCare law, but that’s an argument for repealing the law, not accepting her excuses. Likewise, the Healthcare.gov contractors had an impossible task… which we should hold Obama and Sebelius accountable for dumping on them. And that doesn’t excuse the ineptitude that left us with a cold plate of code spaghetti on Launch Day.
It is absurd and unacceptable for anyone involved with the ObamaCare debacle to withhold information about it, including the Administration officials who continue to insist they can’t produce enrollment totals. Lies and opacity have cost the American people dearly. Nothing but absolute and immediate transparency in all aspects of ObamaCare is acceptable. This isn’t a CIA operation against deadly terrorist enemies, in which secrecy is essential. It’s time for everyone who thought they could get away with lying to us “for our own good” to be held accountable.