(Corrects company background in third last paragraph to make
clear CGI Federal is a unit of Canada's CGI Group Inc, not
Celadon Group, as earlier sent)
By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON Oct 24 The Obama administration
launched its troubled healthcare insurance website after only a
minimum of crucial system-wide testing, despite contractors
warning officials repeatedly about performance risks, a
congressional panel heard on Thursday.
Witnesses said the administration did not conduct end-to-end
testing of the system's technology backbone until just the two
weeks before one of the lynchpins of President Barack Obama's
landmark healthcare policy opened to consumers on Oct. 1.
At a U.S. House of Representatives oversight committee
hearing, contractors also blamed the administration for a
last-minute design change that has been identified as a flaw
responsible for leading millions of visitors into system
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare
and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency implementing the online
marketplace, acknowledged the contractors' testimony.
"Due to a compressed timeframe the system wasn't tested
enough," Bataille said. "What's important to realize is that we
are putting in place a much more robust performance testing
The glitches, delays and errors that have characterized
Healthcare.gov are a growing concern for Republicans and
Democrats alike. The administration is racing to solve the
problems in time for millions of uninsured Americans to enroll
for coverage and begin receiving health benefits from Jan. 1, as
stipulated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly called
CMS said on Thursday that about 700,000 applications have
been submitted so far for U.S. healthcare coverage through the
"We would certainly have liked to see as much time as
possible for end-to-end testing," said Andrew Slavitt, executive
vice president for the parent of CGI Federal and Quality
Software Services Inc (QSSI), a unit of health insurer
QSSI produced the federal data hub and a software tool for
creating online consumer accounts, which was at the center of
early logjam problems. The design change involved turning off
anonymous browsing and requiring online visitors to create
accounts before researching health plan information and
determining their eligibility for federal subsidies to help pay
MONTHS OF TESTING PREFERABLE
Slavitt and Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president for CGI
Federal, the main contractor, said months of testing would have
been preferable for a big new IT system but that the testing
schedule for Healthcare.gov was determined by CMS.
The rollout went ahead after QSSI said it made CMS aware of
its concerns throughout the system's development, but Slavitt
was not aware of any response from the agency.
"The concerns that we had, which were mostly related to
testing and the inability to get as much testing as we'd like -
we expressed all of those concerns and risks to CMS," he said.
"My understanding is they understood those and were working on
them. But I don't know further."
Healthcare.gov is the online web portal for a federal health
insurance marketplace that contractors described as one of the
most complicated large-scale information technology (IT) systems
The 4-1/2 hour hearing before the House Energy and Commerce
Committee marked the first full-length public airing over the
problematic rollout, giving lawmakers the chance to piece
together what went wrong at the beginning of a six-month
enrollment period expected to draw at least 7 million enrollees
"This is not about blame - this is about accountability,
transparency, and fairness for the American public. The broken
promises are many," said Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan
Republican who chairs the committee.
"We still don't know the real picture as the administration
appears allergic to transparency and continues to withhold
enrollment figures," Upton said.
Most of the criticism has come from Republicans who have
long opposed the law, Obama's most significant domestic policy
achievement, as an unwarranted expansion of the federal
Republican John Shimkus of Illinois demanded the names of
administration officials involved in decision making: "I would
venture to guess the regular bureaucrats did their job. The
political appointees manipulated."
Democrats largely dismissed the Republican rhetoric as
partisan politics, saying the committee's goal should be to
"fix, not nix" the law.
"The Affordable Care Act is an enormous success with one
obvious exception: it has a poorly designed website," said
Representative Henry Waxman of California, the lead Democrat on
But some Democrats also expressed disapproval.
Representative Anna Eshoo of California said it was "a lame
excuse" for contractors and the administration to claim that
high volumes of visitors were responsible for problems.
"Taxpayers paid you a lot of money and you're essentially
saying to us that everything's alright when it's not," Eshoo
told the CGI executive Campbell after she assured lawmakers that
the problems would be fixed in time for consumers to enroll for
benefits beginning Jan. 1.
"We anticipate that the system, as we have seen, is
improving day over day..." Campbell said at the hearing. CGI
Federal is a unit of Canada's CGI Group Inc.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the White
House have largely declined to disclose information about the
problems plaguing the system. It cost nearly $400 million to
build, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The House oversight focus will switch next week to the
administration as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius appears before Upton's panel and her lieutenant, CMS
Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testifies before the House Ways
and Means Committee.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Lewis Krauskopf;
Editing by Karey Van Hall and Grant McCool)