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Google, Oracle experts to the rescue for health care website

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By Reuters
Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said it has brought in experts from top technology companies including Google Inc. and Oracle Corp. to fix the website as Republicans press for details about the botched Oct. 1 start that prevented millions of Americans from signing up for insurance plans.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it has added dozens of technology experts and engineers to its round-the-clock effort to fix the technical glitches on the site that is key to the implementation of President Obama's health care overhaul.

Giving some of the first details of who might be leading the tech fix, HHS officials identified two experts by name: Michael Dickerson, a website reliability engineer on leave from Google, and Greg Gershman, a Baltimore-based innovation director with the firm Mobomo and who once worked for the White House and the General Services Administration.

“We are doing everything we can to assist those contractors to make a highly performant, highly reliable, highly secure system.” Oracle CEO Larry Ellison told shareholders at the company's annual meeting on Thursday in Redwood City, Calif.

The administration says it is confident it will have the website running smoothly by Nov. 30, giving people enough time to enroll in health plans to receive coverage beginning on Jan. 1. Failure to do so would jeopardize its goal of signing up enough consumers, particularly the young and healthy, to the online insurance exchanges and would provide new ammunition to Republican efforts to delay or kill the 2010 law.

Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he had subpoenaed HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for information on the website's technical problems. A request for the documents was made on Oct. 10.

The panel wants to know how was tested, the number of people who have enrolled in insurance plans and the number who have attempted to enroll. The subpoena requires the documents to be produced by Nov. 13.

“The evidence is mounting that the website did not go through proper testing ... and that the administration ignored repeated warnings from contractors about ongoing problems,” Issa said.

Some observers are skeptical of the administration's tech surge to fix the website. Howard Anderson, a lecturer at MIT, said he does not believe that bringing in a large number of experts will necessarily solve the problem.

“What I am seeing is the equivalent of a man-overboard drill. It is the equivalent of having an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of code-making machines,” said Anderson, who advises corporations on information technology strategy.

“They have made some interesting promises about how this thing is going to get fixed, but they actually really don't know,” he said.

In an embarrassment to Sebelius, was not fully functional for much of Wednesday as she testified before a House committee about its problems. On Thursday, HHS said the website was back up.

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking administration official to apologize for the botched rollout.

“We assumed that it was up and ready to run,” he told CNN's sister network HLN. “But the good news is although it's not — and we apologize for that — we are confident by the end of November it will be, and there'll still be plenty of time for people to register and get online.”



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