The great Oregon ObamaCare swindle

When the federal government bakes a trillion-dollar pie, everybody lines up to get a piece.  The ObamaCare exchange in Oregon is the sort of black comedy that’s just begging for the Coen Brothers to show up and start filming.  It’s a story of bumbling con artists creating a hilariously transparent scam to suck down tax dollars, resulting in an almost completely useless website.  Somebody involved in this mess has got to look enough like John Goodman to get the Coens interested.

The laughter has subsided a bit now that the FBI is involved, as reported by KATU News:

Former Republican state Rep. Patrick Sheehan told the KATU Investigators he has gone to the FBI with allegations that Cover Oregon project managers initiated the design of dummy web pages to convince the federal government the project was further along than it actually was.

If Sheehan???s allegations are true, those managers could face time in jail for fraud.

“One of the allegations that was made was so alarming that it went way beyond a legislative oversight committee and so I did reach out and contact the FBI,??? Sheehan said.

“The issue had to do with federal funding and proving some amount of compliance with the federal regulation in order to get funding.”

A total of $59 million flowed from federal coffers to the Cover Oregon project, whose project manager, Carolyn Lawson, came up with an “unconventional approach” to meet the benchmarks for receiving continued financial support: she faked a bunch of web pages and fooled the very easily fooled Obama Administration into subsidizing a system she didn’t actually know how to build.  It’s like a community-redevelopment grant scam where they put up cardboard Hollywood-style fake building fronts and snap a picture to show how much work they’re getting done, and the feds say “Awesome, you built a whole town!” and cut another $10 million check.  KATU compares it to building a “concept car that looks flashy in the showroom but doesn’t actually run.”

In a Sept. 27, 2012 email to Bruce Goldberg ??? Lawson???s boss at the Oregon Health Authority, who is now in charge of Cover Oregon ??? she sent a link to something called ???The Solution Factory,??? a site hosted by software contractor Oracle.

Lawson wrote in the email that the link went to a site hosting the same demonstrations the team provided to project stakeholders.

???It demonstrates what we have built to date,??? she wrote. ???By watching this every month, you can see our progress in real time.???

That link is no longer operational.

Neither is the actual Cover Oregon website, which has been one of the biggest chunks of embarrassment floating in the ObamaCare stew of failure.  Tech experts were screaming at the top of their lungs that the whole thing was a mess that shouldn’t have been launched, but as The Oregonian reports, nobody in Governor John Kitzhaber’s office heeded the warnings, while “Cover Oregon leaders wavered between despair and an almost evangelical enthusiasm that they could complete the site.”

One expression of this messianic fervor was the decision to silence critics by punishing the outside auditors hired to monitor the project, whose input was derided as “inaccurate and inflammatory” by Oregon Health Authority bureaucrats.  As it turns out, they were entirely accurate, but not nearly inflammatory enough.

Governor Kitzhaber monitored the project with all the close attention, managerial skill, and responsible leadership Barack Obama displayed toward the federal project, and produced a comparable disaster.  Not many people involved with ObamaCare at any level gave a damn what would happen on October 1 when they flipped the switch.  Nobody had a Plan B for dealing with comprehensive disaster.  They were primarily concerned with cementing a political victory and making ObamaCare difficult to repeal.

And now, like Obama, they’re all busy claiming there were busy with other stuff, totally out of the loop, shocked to discover every briefing was a pack of lies… and that’s their defense.  In this New Normal of weaponized Big Government incompetence, “management” is all about the careful crafting of alibis.  More from The Oregonian:

Mike Bonetto, the governor’s health advisor and now chief-of-staff, was Kitzhaber’s liaison to Cover Oregon. He and Bruce Goldberg, then head of OHA and now interim-director of Cover Oregon, read at least some of the warnings, they confirmed. But in the end, they accepted the assurances that all was well. Goldberg said flatly he was “misled,” by Rocky King, Cover Oregon director, and Carolyn Lawson, the OHA chief information officer responsible for the project.

“I just didn’t get the accurate information,” Bonetto said.

One of the ironies of the Cover Oregon debacle is that it happened despite multiple layers of oversight intended to make sure Bonetto and others had such information.

I don’t think “irony” is the right word to describe that, guys.

The KATU report offers a taste of just how transparent this flim-flam was:

Despite the fact the website still doesn???t work today, the KATU Investigators found evidence Lawson ??? or members of her staff ??? reported to the federal government that the project was going well.

In January 2012, for instance, Lawson wrote a project update for the legislator???s Ways & Means Committee.

She wrote that staff from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had reviewed the design in its entirety on Nov. 16 and 17. She said they were ???delighted??? with the technical application and level of quality.

???They gave Oregon very high marks, say our design was among the best they had seen,??? she wrote.

During this same period, however, the independent quality-assurance company the state hired was reporting a disaster in the making.

???All 13 people interviewed believed the project’s scope is ill-defined and classify it as a major risk,??? reported [quality assurance contractor] Maximus.

In March, Maximus documented questions about what Lawson was showing CMS during those gate reviews.

???While there was a system design meeting with CMS using design documents prepared with assistance from Oracle, we cannot determine if this is the official, approved HIX-IT design,??? reads page 27 of the report.

Oregon authorities swiftly reached the same conclusion Emperor Commodus came to in “Gladiator“: shut Maximus the hell up.  (If you’re up for one more movie metaphor, one of the tech experts quoted in The Oregonian’s report compared Cover Oregon to The Blob, since it “seemingly couldn’t be stopped due to its amorphous plans and political momentum.”)

There was also a staged presentation in which someone pretended to sign up for coverage on the website, a feat no actual citizen of Oregon in search of health insurance can actually perform.  Tell me that’s not ripe for a scene of comic chaos to rival Nicholas Cage running through the streets with a package of Huggies while cops and dogs chase him in “Raising Arizona.”

Former Rep. Sheehan, who called in the FBI, and happens to have a background in web development, recalls how easily federal officials were suckered too:

In May, the federal government held a meeting with Oregon and the other states that had been issued early innovator grants.

During the meeting, Lawson???s team said Oregon???s exchange was producing a new working build every month, and reiterated that the website had been successfully demonstrated to CMS.

Remember, this was for a website that today still has more than a dozen critical coding errors, and for which there is still no estimated completion date.

???She showed us a nice smile and some jingles,??? Sheehan said. ???There was nothing else. There were screen shots ??? we never saw anything close to a functioning piece.???

I also have a background in computer design, and there’s no way a reputable design operation could get away with something like this.  Everything I ever worked on was handed off to the company’s owners for personal testing before a customer ever saw it.  The owners proceeded to act like the most confused and easily frustrated users possible and try to break whatever we had written.  (At least, I think it was an act.)  They weren’t going to unleash anything on the customers they hadn’t personally beaten half to death.

There’s no way even the most rudimentary management procedures would result in the launch of a system nobody can actually use successfully.  All these people saying they got hoodwinked by the project managers are responsible for their failure to sit down at a keyboard and try using the system themselves.  Their failure to do so is astonishing, and that goes right up to President Obama.  Arrogance and lazy ineptitude are not sufficient to explain it; many of the officials involved were deliberately closing their eyes and ears to warnings they didn’t want to hear.

Not only was a lot of development money on the line – which should make FBI involvement a no-brainer, although KATU says nobody will confirm or deny an investigation is in progress – but people’s lives were destroyed by the horrific ObamaCare launch, from coast to coast.  Uncounted hours of valuable time have been lost wrestling with inert computer systems and correcting their errors.  The people who keep insisting they care so very, very much about the Little Guy had no problem putting the Little Guy through hell, and very little detectable remorse about the results.  They spend most of their time and energy waving off the hard cases as unrepresentative “anecdotes” who don’t count.

With that in mind, is it excessively cynical for me to predict that Obama’s Justice Department won’t be all that eager to get to the bottom of what happened in Oregon?