Guy Benson

According to her prepared testimony, President Obama's HHS Secretary will appear before Congress later this morning and point the finger of blame at private contractors* -- rather than the administration that hand-selected and micro-managed those contractors -- for Obamacare's failed roll-out. Absolutely pathetic:


Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will tell a House committee...the site's botched rollout was the result of contractors failing to live up to expectations – not bad management at HHS, as the contractors suggested. "CMS has a track record of successfully overseeing the many contractors our programs depend on to function. Unfortunately, a subset of those contracts for HealthCare.gov have not met expectations," Sebelius said in prepared testimony for tomorrow's hearing before the Energy and Commerce Committee. The site's contractors have blamed HealthCare.gov's problems on CMS – the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which handled the Obamacare implementation effort within HHS. Testifying before the same committee last week, contractors faulted CMS for design changes that made the site harder to use. They have also criticized the agency for integrating contractors' work itself, rather than designating one contractor to take the lead.


First of all, if the contractors really are guilty of shoddy work, whom should Americans hold held accountable for that? Might the people who chose to award lucrative federal contracts to inadequate firms bear significant responsibility? Bear in mind, though, that subpar work isn't the real story here. As the National Journal piece excerpted above notes, the government made the head-scratching decision to appoint itself lead contractor for the Obamacare implementation process. The Obama administration chose to be principally responsible for coordinating all of the moving pieces and making sure everything fell into place on time. They failed miserably. Also, the president's political team pulled a series of maneuvers that made the private contractors' jobs exceedingly difficult. These choices were made for political reasons. For instance, the administration delayed releasing a slew of core regulations -- without which building the law's infrastructure was impossible -- until after the 2012 election. This act alone severely curtailed the project's lifespan, and did so for no other reason than to spare the president some potential re-election headaches.

Then, once the tasks were underway and started to lag behind, the administration declined outside assistance. Why? To stave off GOP scrutiny of how dysfunctional things were behind the scenes. Another complicating factor was a front-end long-in layer prior to browsing coverage options -- which Team Obama tacked on at the last minute in order to mask premium sticker shock. Finally, testing was spotty and came shockingly late in the game. Despite months of warnings and red flags, the first "live" test of the integrated system occurred mere days before the October 1 deadline. That test was a catastrophic failure. And yet, Sec. Sebelius and the White House made the decision to move ahead with the consumer-side roll-out as planned (other elements had been previously and unlawfully delayed). Sebelius now claims she had no choice in the matter, but that's downright false, too. That she's planning to show up before the House Ways & Means Committee and blamestorm her way through tough questions is insulting, but not surprising. Bad outcomes are always, always someone else's fault with this group. Accountability is for the plebs. Another fun fact: HHS is cancelling a planned November conference for these very contractors. We mustn't fete the new scapegoats, after all. What else can curious Congressmen expect from Sebelius this morning? If yesterday's CMS press call was any indication, snide suggestions that their questions are "distractions:"


On a Monday afternoon conference call, Alex Wayne of Bloomberg News tried a different approach. Instead of attempting to ask the names of those involved in the tech surge, he asked Batille how many people were involved. Yet apparently even that was too much to ask, because Bataille responded that she didn’t want those working on the project to be “distracted.” Because clearly, if the American public is aware of how many people are involved in this project, the brilliant technology wizzes our government has brought on board won’t be able to get any work done at all.


I'll leave you with one of the highlights of yesterday's Ways & Means hearings, which were the appetizers to today's main course. The mind-numbing obfuscation fun starts just before the two minute mark:



And then came this assertion, which requires no further commentary:




*UPDATE - Just yesterday, Obama got burned by throwing people-who-know-too-much under the bus. Sebelius is making the same mistake, it seems. They were warned:


The Obama administration was given stark warnings just one month before that the federal healthcare site was not ready to go live, according to a confidential report obtained by CNN. The caution, from the main contractor CGI, warned of a number of open risks and issues for the HealthCare.gov web site even as company executives were testifying publicly that the project had achieved key milestones. On Capitol Hill on Monday, Medicaid Chief Marilyn Tavenner, whose job it was to oversee the October 1 rollout of the website, said she did not foresee its problems. "No, we had tested the website and we were comfortable with its performance," she said. "Now, like I said, we knew all along there would be as with any new website, some individual glitches we would have to work out. But, the volume issue and the creation of account issues was not anticipated and obviously took us by surprise. And did not show up in testing." But the CGI document, which describes "outstanding issues currently being mitigated" says the testing timeframes are "not adequate to complete full functional, system, and integration testing activities" and lists the impact of the problems as "significant." Another element is listed as " not enough time in schedule to conduct adequate performance testing" and given the highest priority. The report also gave "the highest priority" and warns "we dont have access to monitoring tools" and "hub services are intermittently unavailable" -- short for the "site's not working sometimes."


Based on this information, did Tavenner perjure herself yesterday? Sebelius is in for a rough day.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography