Republicans’ wish to question former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park on his involvement in the Healthcare.gov rollout last fall finally came true Tuesday. And some Democrats now fear his forced testimony and the continued “political theater” surrounding his service to Healthcare.gov could discourage private sector innovators from offering their IT talents to the federal government.
Withstanding several rounds of questions from Affordable Care Act dissidents on the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight, Park clarified that he did not have the intimate knowledge to express doubt in the security and success of the website. That, he said, was up to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid officials and their contractors.
“I was not a project manager who was managing and executing the day in and day out operational work of building the Healthcare.gov and the federally facilitated marketplace,” Park said. “This was the responsibility of CMS. I didn’t have the kind of comprehensive, deep, detailed knowledge of the effort that a hands-on project manager would have.”
Park’s role as CTO, rather, was to focus on many other interagency initiatives centered on technology policy and innovation, such as the push for open data and the Green Button initiative, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking member from Texas on the full committee, said in his defense.
With a background as a successful health care IT entrepreneur and CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services, Park was naturally asked to take on an advisory role with Healthcare.gov. Also, when the site began to critically malfunction, he was called to be part of the team to rescue it.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said the hearing felt more like a trial with majority members diverting their negative political views on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, toward a technologist with little actual responsibility for the outcome of the program’s website. And that, Swalwell said, could have negative impacts on the nation’s hopes to recruit new technology talent, a job Park has taken on since moving to Silicon Valley as a liaison to the White House.
“Mr. Park is a successful entrepreneur in the IT world who took a break from developing successful companies to come to Washington, D.C., to help the government and the country to think of creative ways to use information technology to improve our economy and address important social problems,” Swalwell said. Park is trying to attract entrepreneurs just like him to serve in federal government and leave behind their multimillion-dollar contracts, but Swalwell said, “I cannot imagine this helps him make that case.”
“When we have someone who has come and given so much to this country from the private sector and done so much, we want to make sure we send a message to the American public that we appreciate your sacrifice and all your hard work,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said. “And I imagine that when you said yes when you were asked to come and serve your country, you never imagined you’d be sitting in a subcommittee hearing in what appears to be a ‘game of gotcha!'”
Swalwell closed by summarizing a minority staff report that said Park didn’t have the intimate involvement in Healthcare.gov’s launch, because “if he was playing such a role, there should be monthly progress reports” that show it, he said. “I believe Mr. Park’s job was about trying to push technology, and the record and evidence supports that.”
Despite that, Republicans seemed unconvinced and threatened to call Park back for another hearing. Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun, R-Ga., said the subcommittee still hasn’t received all the documents it requested from the White House.
“Perhaps that is why people still disagree about your role in the debacle,” Broun said, asking that the documents be provided. “After a more thorough assessment of these documents, you may be called to appear before us again, Mr. Park, in order to one day reach a better understanding. While I may no longer be in Congress on that day, the committee’s vigilance on this matter will carry on.”
Healthcare.gov’s second open enrollment period launched Nov. 15.